Are you a parent, confused about the effects of vaccines on your child or just another person like me, seeking answers behind the whole controversy of MMR vaccines causing autism?
Let me put your worries to rest. After rigorous research and tests, it has been ascertained that there is no direct contribution of MMR Vaccines in the recent increase in the rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These studies have stated that neither the vaccines have an association for the development of autism nor its components (mercury/thiomersal) has any direct link to the sudden surge in some autistic children.
It is highly unlikely for this vaccine to cause autism.
What is an MMR Vaccine?
MMR is an essential vaccine administered to babies, once above the age of 6 months and then again at the age of 3 years and four months. This vaccine aims to protect the child from three different diseases, which are Measles, Mumps and Rubella. The vaccine was invented in the year 1988 and has since then reduced the outbreak of these diseases, all over the world.
The whole course involves two doses of injections that help in the prevention of these threatening diseases. It promotes the child by stimulating the immune system against the three diseases and immediately produces antibodies if the child comes in contact with any of it.
Children older than the age of 18, who have missed this vaccination, either entirely or partially can even get themselves administered with it to keep them safe. It is also safe for pregnant woman, to get themselves checked against it to avoid complications during pregnancy. Although the women who are already expecting cannot get these injections.
What is autism?
Autism is a disease that comes with a wide range of characteristics, marked by a difficulty in social skills, like communicating verbally or nonverbally or restricted and repetitive behavior. It is a term commonly taken to describe a set of neurodevelopmental disorders. Currently, 1 out of 59 children are affected by this disease, and it is more common in boys, with a ratio of 4:1.
A lot of symptoms of autism start showing at the early age of 12 to 24 months, but many kids have shown the signs both before and after that age. The primary symptoms are slow social development and interaction by the child. Apart from verbal issues, the child may also be fixated on repetitive behavior or pattern and strictly adhere to it.
Through the years many efforts have been made to ascertain the exact cause of autism in children, but the real reason behind it still evades us. Many scientists have believed it to be caused by environmental issues, being born to older parents, or having someone in the immediate family suffering from it. Both genetics and environment are believed to be the reason behind autism.
How it all began?
The controversy around the popular MMR Vaccine started with the claims regarding the side effects of Urabe mumps strain. A trial was conducted in which Urabe mumps stain was taken off the market and replaced by Jeryl Lynn stain mumps. A primary measles outbreak happened in 1994 when approximately 7.1 million school children in the UK were given the vaccination to prevent it from spreading.
It came into limelight much later in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield published an article in The Lancet. The illicit research paper allegedly claimed that vaccination has a direct contribution to causing diseases like colitis and autism. The paper was widely read and discussed leading to a sharp decline in the vaccination rates all over the UK and Ireland. Following this a tremendous increase was witnessed in the prevalence of measles and mumps, leading to death and serious injuries.
What is the controversy about?
In 1996, Andrew Wakefield researched the contribution of measles virus in Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease from where he received popularity. Later on, in 1998 he along with his 12 colleagues published a fraudulent article in London, citing the behavioral symptoms of 12 children, to MMR vaccine. In his study, out of these 12 children, parents of 8 children admitted to the fact that their children were showing symptoms of autism from as soon as 14 days of being administered.
All of them blamed the vaccine for this and called the authorities to suspend use of them. Wakefield also advocated the use of single vaccines for these diseases instead of a combined one.
Wakefield went further to comment that the country’s immunization programme was dangerous and proved it by showcasing reports of children who have autism; which had evidence of measles virus. The story spread like wildfire, all over the country, due to the active role of media. A plethora of reports and articles were published that pushed parents into a scare.
This created a lot of stir in the country, and people lost their faith in the government and health care services. Even certified doctors started to believe the correlation between the two, as suggested by Wakefield. The effect of this was not just limited to the UK, but the rate of vaccination plummeted in the US as well.
After the sudden break of this story, the rate of vaccination dropped to 84% in 2002 from earlier recorded 92% in 1996. By the year 2006, only 85% of children were given the injection, whereas the rate was 94% for other essential vaccines.
These diseases started spreading all over like wildfire and created havoc, again signifying the integral role played by the MMR vaccine in prevention of these deadly diseases.
With the widespread myths and confusion, myriad of studies and researches were conducted to prove the authenticity of the rumors spread by the allegations of Wakefield. Over the next 12 years, this topic was studied and discussed extensively all over the world.
A journalist named Brian Deer, who worked for The Sunday Times of London, carried out an exhaustive investigation. He concluded that Andrew Wakefield was paid money, to write and publish that story by solicitors. It was a scam, done to malign the reputation of the manufacturers of those vaccines. When it reached the editors at The Lancet, they were shocked as well and admitted that the research paper didn’t approve for publication in the first place.
They acknowledged the fact that the statements made in the research paper of Wakefield, were entirely flawed. They took responsibility for the negligence on their part and criticized Wakefield for the non-disclosure of facts to the editors and his colleagues as well. In 2004, ten out of the twelve co-writers removed themselves from the association and retracted their research.
Later on, there were speculations that Wakefield had filed for a patent of vaccine himself and indulged in this practice to take over the rivals. But it was never proven. However, his study was highly fraudulent. He had multiple conflicts of interest, broken ethical codes and had even manipulated evidence to put forward his point.
In the year 2010, the General Medical Council of UK banned Andrew Wakefield from practicing medicine. It ascertains that his practices were fraudulent and he had shown no regard to the interest of the children involved in the study. In February 2010, The Lancet announced to “fully retract this paper from the published record.” And along with Wakefield, John Walker was also charged as guilty and disbarred from practicing medicine.
Following this, a few studies were conducted by various departments to sufficiently prove that there is no contribution of MMR vaccines in autism. Cochrane Library did one of them in 2012, which involved 14,700,000 children and found no apparent evidence. Another similar meta-analysis of children in 2014 depicted that “vaccines don’t have an association with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder.”
Despite the long and excruciatingly extensive controversy, the outcome of it has been positive. Called as one of the biggest medical scams ever, it is still widely discussed and researched about. Many kinds of research are still going on to prove the connection, as many critics keep questioning the authenticity of it.
This controversy or scam has caused a lot of distrust among the people, all over the world. People are opting out of getting their children vaccinated, leading to sudden outbreaks of measles in both UK and US. Following the herd philosophy, parents are putting their children at risk of catching these diseases and eventually leading to putting other less immune children too at the risk of death.
Although, most of the scientists and doctors now have stated that there is no connection between the two. They are strong of the opinion that vaccines have no contribution in causing autism. Environmental factors and genetics are considered to be the sole reasons behind the surge in cases of autism. As of 2003, 77% of the physicians in the UK recommend new parents to get their child vaccinated, and the number has been on the rise with further developments.