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Vital Signs


Vital Signs

Summer 2009

No Link Between Childhood Vaccines and Autism


UCLA Health Vital Signs publication - Summer 2009 issue: No Link Between Childhood Vaccines and AutismThe widely publicized notion that autism is linked to childhood vaccines has no basis, and parents who decline to have their children immunized are exposing them to unnecessary health risks, says UCLA pediatric infectious-disease specialist James Cherry, M.D.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming that neither the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine nor the vaccine preservative thimerosal is associated with autism risk, Dr. Cherry says. And earlier this year, a special court, made up of a panel of federal judges that considers cases involving alleged vaccine-related injuries, determined, after hearing testimony for two years, that there was insufficient evidence to prove an association between certain early-childhood vaccines and autism. The likely reason many parents have suspected a link, Dr. Cherry notes, is the timing association — the first dose of MMR generally is given between 12 and 15 months of age, and the first signs of autism can become apparent early in the second year of life. “A number of parents come in with misinformation,” Dr. Cherry says. “It is up to pediatricians to be persistent in explaining that these vaccines are safe and important.”

The choice to not immunize can lead to serious health consequences. The very diseases the vaccine prevents, for example, can themselves lead to autism-spectrum disorder, Dr. Cherry says, citing H. influenzae meningitis, pneumococcal meningitis, congenital rubella and measles encephalitis as examples.

There also are broader community-wide implications. “If everyone around you is immunized, you may be protected by ‘herd immunity,’ because the disease is not being transmitted in your community,” Dr. Cherry explains. “But we are now beginning to see measles and other outbreaks in communities where large segments of parents don’t vaccinate their children because of misinformation.”

For more information on studies about vaccines and autism, go to:

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