Do Vaccines Cause Autism? NO
— And Here’s How We Know
The answer to this question is so important that we put it in the title of the blog. “Vaccines cause autism” is one of the more harmful myths surrounding both vaccination and autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. But a single faulty study, even after being thoroughly debunked and denounced, has had effects more far-reaching than anyone could have anticipated.
Let’s take a look at the original study that claimed that vaccines cause autism, how it was disproven, and what this enduring misconception means for us today.
The Origins of “Vaccines Cause Autism”
The MMR vaccine was introduced in 1971 to help prevent measles, mumps, and rubella, all of which were very common prior to the vaccine. These three diseases were known to cause death in children in rare cases, and serious health problems for those who survived. In 1998, a doctor named Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a paper in a prestigious U.K. medical journal called the Lancet. In this paper, Wakefield suggested a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
There were several obvious issues with this study. As evidence, the paper cited a fairly small sample size of only 12 children. Wakefield also hand-picked these individuals to fit the outcome he sought, a violation of the scientific method — and ethics.
Perhaps most importantly, the study relied almost entirely on speculation. Its conclusions leaned heavily on the logic that, since the MMR vaccine is typically given around the same time most children are diagnosed with autism — that is, in the first two years of life — the two must be linked. However, in this case, correlation did not equal causation.
Debunking the Myth
Immediately after Wakefield’s paper was published, the world’s medical community started gathering data to refute the claim that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Several other studies were conducted and published in credible medical journals, using larger sample sizes and controls, all coming to the same conclusion: There is no verifiable link between the MMR vaccine and ASD, beyond the fact that both occur in early childhood. In 2004, Wakefield was further discredited when it was discovered that his research had been funded in part by lawyers working on anti-vaccine lawsuits, which suggested his work was biased from the start.
In light of this, the Lancet withdrew the paper. Most of Wakefield’s colleagues on the study retracted their interpretation of the data, stating that there was no link between the vaccine and autism.
Lies Travel Faster Than the Truth
In 2010, Wakefield’s medical license was revoked, but the damage had already been done. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and in other western countries, vaccination rates began to drop, despite Wakefield’s “research” being thoroughly disproven and his serious conflicts of interest brought to light.
The effects of this single, disproven study are far-reaching, most notably giving momentum to the anti-vaccination movement. And this drop in vaccination rates over the years has, as doctors feared, led to increased measles outbreaks in the United States, causing the resurgence of a disease that had previously been eliminated. Some experts worry that more diseases will follow.
What This Means for Parents of Children with ASD
Even though Wakefield’s study has been refuted, the parents of children with autism around the world have felt the repercussions. The fact that some people believe parents could have prevented their child’s ASD — and the implication that it’s preferrable for a child to have a deadly disease over ASD — are hurtful, and only serve to complicate the lives of those with ASD and their loved ones.
For the dignity of families with ASD, and the health and safety of children everywhere, what we hope you take away from this blog is this:
There is absolutely no link between autism and vaccines.
And we encourage you to explore other credible sources, learn more about this controversy, and draw your own conclusions.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to The Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis at (919) 822-8802 any time; we are here to be a resource for you and your family. If your child has already received an autism diagnosis and you wish to know more about how we can help them, fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation today.
Get in touch. We're here to help.