Friday, April 04, 2008

Autism and Vaccinations

Glenn Reynolds has been pounding away recently on the "junk science" associated with choosing to not vaccinate a child. He cited a recent measles outbreak in Europe and the fact that 240,000 children die a year from measles as evidence that vaccines are necessary.

In the other corner of the debate, you have parents of autistic children, like Jenny McCarthy, whose son went into cardiac arrest after his MMR vaccine and who is convinced that the vaccination caused her son's autism. She is not alone in her belief. I have met scores of parents who saw a causal link between the immunization and the onset of the disease. Are these parents imagining the loss of their child's self? As Jenny asks the doctor, "Are these children acceptable losses in the name of immunization?"

I am not autistic, but I myself went into anaphylactic shock when I was given the MMR vaccine as a child. It resulted in an emergency room visit and my parents were convinced I was going to die. They decided then and there to not immunize my siblings. We have all made it to adulthood, but we did suffer from chicken pox, mumps and the other childhood viri. I should note that I got mumps even with being fully immunized as did my husband and his brothers, all fully immunized. They were the unfortunate recipients of bad batches of vaccines that didn't work and endured mumps in their teen years which could have resulted in sterilization. Not good.

It is unusual, but not rare, for vaccinated people to get the illness anyway. It has been a subject of research and concern. It seems that immunity fades for measles into adulthood. This has serious ramifications as a pregnant mother with measles is a huge problem. However, for the common kid, it should also be noted that measles is not a big deal. There is a mild fever and rash and when complications do arise, it's often dehydration secondary to fever and emesis. In the Western world, it's unlikely to be fatal. In areas where good medical care can't be had, it's more dangerous.

My son, age 10, is autistic. He was born at 24 weeks gestation and had different surgeries for different issues typical to premature babies. Developmentally, he's struggled and it's a challenge figuring out what came from prematurity or the autism. He's been on more hard core medications in his short life than many people will have taken for the four score and twenty they live on the planet. That means the stabilizers and preservatives that are in most medications were pumped into his tiny body. Did they contribute to his autism? Perhaps.

He also demonstrated an inability to acclimate to his surroundings even at a pound. The other babies managed to handle the sounds of the NICU, my son never could. Even at five months, had trouble if his schedule was messed up. I became a robot in response to his needs. So my son would probably have trouble immunizations or not. For my child, I think there is a genetic component.

However, it has been documented that parents have not been lying about the regressions they're seeing. Finally, doctors will admit that much. Parents have been told that they're imagining what they've seen before their eyes. This is absolutely maddening and restricts the scope of research when doctors won't acknowledge the clinical evidence sitting in front of them. How will autism be cured if one potential vector of disease is ignored?

Vaccinations are the holy grail of medicine. They are sacrosanct and therefore untouchable. Parents who have seen their children turn off after being vaccinated are not imaging what they are seeing. That doesn't mean that the virus is causing it. It doesn't mean the stabilizers cause it. It doesn't mean the fever is causing it. It doesn't mean that the brain inflammation is causing it. But something is causing the change. And the denials by the medical community are just exacerbating the distrust and undermining their own credibility. It's not a good idea to imply your patients are liars. They tend to resent it.

More research is needed. Those who rapturously enthuse about vaccinations sound hard and uncaring to parents dealing with the daily trauma of a child who is unreachable but who once interacted with the world. Criminalizing people who worry about the effects of vaccinations is ridiculous. The medical community needs to reach out and listen and research. Families lives are being destroyed with this scourge. And the verdict is far from in on the cause of autism.


Anonymous said...

I was not immunized as a child and actually got the mumps from you!

Chalmers said...

I have never had an immunization. First shot of that kind was tetanus at 19.

Funny thing about tetanus... even if you go and get your shot every 5 or 10 years, when you step on that rusty nail, they still give you another shot. I actually received a tetanus shot and a tetanus booster simultaneously!

Too much money is involved in this whole deal. Very little untainted research. Very little middle ground or balanced analysis.

Check out your insurance coverage. Maybe you think MMR all in one shot is too much for your baby... Guess what, you will probably have to pony up the cash to get each shot individually because the HMO/PPO only cover the cocktail (better margins).

No Shots and Still Kickin,
Little Brother

john f not kerry said...

Even as the father of an 11 year old son with autism, I am reluctant to enter into this debate, primarily because we just don't know, and I can just imagine the trial lawyers eager to get involved. I can't say when my son developed it, as there was no moment such as that described in the post, but he did display the classic signs of talking late and then losing it.

Regarding Jenny McCarthy, I think it is important to point out that it was caught very early and that her son was higher functioning on the spectrum. I am happy for them, of course, but besides my appreciation of ABA therapy (which has greatly helped my son, but he is still nonverbal), autism is still a long way off from being completely understood, and is on such a wide spectrum that what works for some will not always work for others.

Back to immunizations. Somewhere along the way, American society has come to expect, as well as almost mandate, vaccinations for various diseases. In most cases, no ill effects seem to have taken place. Also, in our overly regulated and lawsuit happy world, fewer drug companies even want to go near vaccines, for fear of the expenses and headaches that go with them.

Do I hold the drug companies responsible for certain instances of autism. Maybe. If it can be proven that there was negligence of fraud, and a direct connection to the situation, then yes. But I haven't seen that yet. Again, as a parent of a child with autism, I have sympathy and empathy with what others are going through, but I hope they can concentrate first on helping their children first. It is certainly an emotionally charged issue, and I am hoping we can find the truth out soon so that progress can be made on prevention rahter than punishment.

nickimay08 said...

I agree...more research definitely needs to be done on the issue. The continually increasing rates of children diagnosed with autism is frightening. I don't necessarily believe vaccines cause autism. However, I do think it is very possible something in the vaccines may trigger the onset of autism in someone genetically predisposed to it. There have just been too many parents seeing a huge difference in their children after the vaccines. There is a really great debate about this topic at Multiple experts from both sides debate the issue...a very interesting and thought-provoking read on the topic!

sandy said...

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