Immunization Month: Autism and Immunizations
No one truly knows what causes autism, but there's much speculation as to its origins. For the last several years a debate has raged about a possible connection between autism and routinely recommended childhood vaccinations. Some parent groups and even some doctors claim that thimerosal, a mercurybased preservative once used in vaccines, triggers autism. But leading health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insist there is no connection and parents should feel confident about immunizing their children.
Stoking the debate are parent groups such as the National Autism Association which find and promote studies from journals such as the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons that report a possible relationship between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Safe Minds is a private non-profit organization founded to research the potential harmful effects of mercury and thimerosal on infants and children - their tag line is "sensible action for ending mercury-induced neurological disorders."
A recent ruling by the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program brought the debate into the limelight once again by awarding the family of a 9-year-old autistic child compensation for her illness. Specifics of the case have not been released, but officials state that the child has mitochondrial disorder, a rare disease which, when exacerbated by vaccine-induced fever, may have led to autism-like symptoms.
On the other side of this debate are groups like the Immunization Coalition of Los Angeles County, which addressed the issue at a recent meeting. In addition to referencing extensive research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the California Department of Developmental Services - all finding no causal relationship between autism and immunizations - several attendants raised compelling reasons why immunizations are critical for the health of a society and individual children. They also emphasized that making an unfounded connection between autism and immunizations can create serious public health problems and community health concerns.
Consider San Diego. Just last February, 12 area children caught the measles because they had not received the recommended measles, mumps and rubella vaccination. Notably, nine of the infected children's parents refused the vaccine, referencing personal beliefs. The other three were under 12 months of age and therefore too young to have been vaccinated. One of the 12 children was hospitalized.
"Vaccines are important for protecting a child's health, from the time they are born, through adolescence and into adulthood," said Jonathan E. Fielding, L.A. County public health director and health officer and a First 5 LA commissioner. "As we recently saw in the San Diego measles outbreak, the decision not to vaccinate one's child puts that child and other children at risk of contracting a disease that could be dangerous or deadly." This year, L.A. County had its first measles case in two years.
Vaccinations work to prevent debilitating disease and death. The non-profit Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases cite heartbreaking stories of children who have suffered from vaccine preventable diseases. According to the National Meningitis Association, 10 to 15 percent of people who contract meningitis, mostly a vaccine-preventable disease, die, and approximately 20 percent suffer long-term consequences, such as brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss or limb amputations. The vaccine for meningitis is recommended for adolescents aged 11-18, and can significantly reduce the chances of contracting the disease.
See below for more resources regarding immunizations:
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