Childhood Vaccines NOT Linked To Autism

By Jon Hamilton

Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds no link between the number of vaccinations a young child receives and the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders.

A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life.

The study, by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response.

The study offers a response to vaccine skeptics who have suggested that getting too many vaccines on one day or in the first two years of life may lead to autism, says Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office of the CDC.

To find out if that was happening, DeStefano led a team that compared the vaccine histories of about 250 children who had autism spectrum disorder with those of 750 typical kids. Specifically, the researchers looked at what scientists call antigens. An antigen is a substance in a vaccine that causes the body to produce antibodies, proteins that help fight off infections.

The team looked at medical records to see how many antigens each child received and whether that affected the risk of autism. The results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, were unequivocal.

“The amount of antigens from vaccines received on one day of vaccination or in total during the first two years of life is not related to the development of autism spectrum disorder in children,” DeStefano says.

The finding came as no surprise to researchers who study the immune system, DeStefano says. After all, he says, kids are exposed to antigens all the time in the form of bacteria and viruses. “It’s not really clear why a few more antigens from vaccines would be something that the immune system could not handle,” he says.

The study also found that even though the number of vaccines has gone up, the number of antigens in vaccines has gone down markedly. In the late-1990s, the vaccination schedule exposed children to several thousand antigens, the study says. But by 2012, that number had fallen to 315.

That dramatic reduction occurred because vaccines have become much more precise in the way they stimulate the immune system, DeStefano says.

Hardcore vaccine skeptics are unlikely to be swayed by the new research. But many worried parents should be, says Ellen Wright Clayton, a professor at Vanderbilt University who helped write a report on vaccine safety for the Institute of Medicine.

“I certainly hope that a carefully conducted study like this will get a lot of play, and that some people will find this convincing,” Clayton says. That would let researchers pursue more important questions, she says.

“The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, they’re missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are,” she says. “It’s not vaccines.”

Autism Speaks, a major advocacy and research group, seems ready to move beyond the vaccine issue. Geraldine Dawson, the group’s top scientist, praised the new study and says the result should clear the way for research on other potential causes of autism.

These include factors like nutrition, which can affect a baby’s brain development in the womb, Dawson says. Other factors could include medications and infections during pregnancy, she says, or an infant’s exposure to pesticides or pollution.

“As we home in on what is causing autism, I think we are going to have fewer and fewer questions about some of these things that don’t appear to be causing autism,” Dawson says.


Professional Development Resources is featuring it’s Autism CE curriculum during the month of April to promote awareness among health professionals @


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Big Jump in Vaccine Delays

By Linda Carroll

Big jump seen in Oregon parents delaying vaccinesAn increasing number of parents may be choosing to delay or limit certain vaccinations for their young children, a new study shows, even as cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, continue to rise nationwide, with recent outbreaks in California and Washington.

The study, which examined medical records for 97,711 Portland children, found an almost four-fold increase between 2006 and 2009 in the percentage of parents who delayed or skipped vaccinations, researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics. Experts say that by delaying certain vaccinations, parents may be putting their children — and those of others — at a far greater risk of contracting deadly diseases, such as pneumonia and pertussis.

The new study examined the vaccination histories of children born in the Portland area between 2003 and 2009. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of parents who rejected government recommendations and made up their own vaccine schedules rose from 2.5 percent to 9.5 percent.

While the researchers could not say how typical the Portland results are compared to other areas around the country — Portland schools reportedly have some of the highest vaccine exemption rates in the U.S. — a 2011 study published in Pediatrics found that 13 percent of parents nationwide were using alternative schedules. Another study published in Public Health Report in 2010 found that almost 22 percent of parents were deviating in some way from the CDC’s recommendations for infant vaccinations — either by delaying shots, leaving out certain vaccines, or skipping vaccinations altogether.

The vaccine delays may not completely explain recent whooping cough outbreaks in states such as California and Washington, but “they certainly don’t help,” said Dr. Jaime Deville, a UCLA professor of infectious diseases in the pediatrics department.

The main reason parents give for delaying shots is fear their children will be harmed by receiving multiple vaccines at the same time, according to the study’s lead author, Steve Robison, an epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority. The vaccines most likely to be delayed by 9 months were for hepatitis B and pneumococcal disease (pneumonia).

For example, at both the two- and six-month visits the CDC recommends kids get a total of six vaccines. Even with some of them combined that adds up to a lot of shots. By age 4, children receive up to 28 vaccinations, based on the CDC immunization schedule.

Some parents believe they’ll get the same benefit if they spread the vaccinations out over more doctors’ visits rather than getting them all at once.

“There are rumors out there that your body can’t handle that many vaccines, that your body won’t be able to respond appropriately if you get several all at one time,” Robison said.

Experts say vaccines pose no harm to babies; even though multiple shots can be painful for a few moments, they say the consequences of delaying vaccinations can be much worse.

There are reasons for concern over the delayed vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there were 2,325 cases of pertussis in Washington state through June 9, 2012, compared to 171 during the same time period in 2011. A 2010 outbreak in California led to 9,143 cases — including 10 infant deaths — the most cases in that state since 1947.

“We’d like parents to know that the recommended number of doses of a vaccine is what is needed to build adequate protection levels both for their child and for the community,” Robison said. “One dose of a vaccine, such as for pertussis, doesn’t build enough protection.”

By 9 months, infants on an alternative vaccine schedule had fewer injections than those with parents following the government recommended schedule — an average of 6.4 versus 10.4 shots — and more doctors’ visits for vaccinations.

What’s more, few had caught up with the recommended number of vaccinations by the end of the study.

One big problem with the modified schedule is that parents are bringing children who haven’t been appropriately vaccinated into the doctor’s office more often — thus putting other kids at greater risk, said pediatrician Dr. Andrew Nowalk, an assistant professor at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Deville is especially concerned about parents who are choosing to delay the pneumococcal vaccine until age 2. Infants are most vulnerable to pneumonia during the first year of life. “Parents who delay the vaccine until age 2 are leaving their children vulnerable during the period where it occurs at its highest frequency,” Deville said.

An added advantage of the pneumococcal vaccine is that it lowers the amount of bacteria living in kids’ noses and throats, Nowalk said. “So the children who aren’t getting vaccinated are more likely to be carrying the bacteria without being infected and spreading it to others,” he added. “When you don’t vaccinate your child you’re not only putting your child at risk but also those of others.”

Further, Nowalk said, there are lots of kids out there with immune deficiencies — those with leukemia, or depressed immune systems because of organ transplants, for example — who can’t get vaccines. So they have to rely on everyone else getting vaccinated.

“When enough of the population is immunized, transmission is essentially stopped,” Deville explained. “The bottom line is that immunizations are extremely safe. They have the most value of any of our interventions when it comes to prolonging life and preventing diseases – not only for our own children but also for the community.”