There's 'no debate' whether vaccines cause autism--they don't, according to medical experts

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published January 13, 2016

Key Takeaways

Because “there is simply no scientific evidence that links vaccines to autism,” the topic should not be a matter of debate, wrote Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS, in an article published September 17, 2015 in The New York Times.

Nevertheless, questions about vaccination and autism came up during the September 16 debate of Republican presidential candidates—much to the chagrin of Dr. Carroll, who is a Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Dean for Research Mentoring at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM), in Indianapolis, IN. He is also the director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, located at IUSM.

“My hopes were dashed as Wednesday night’s debate wound down,” Dr. Carroll wrote. “Questions about vaccines and autism were asked not only of Donald Trump, but also of the two physicians taking part: Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, and Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist.”

During that debate, CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Dr. Carson about Donald Trump’s public remarks that childhood vaccines are linked to autism. Dr. Carson responded that “there have been numerous studies, and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.”

Dr. Carson continued, “This was something that was spread widely 15 or 20 years ago, and it has not been adequately ... revealed to the public what's actually going on.”

What’s actually going on, Dr. Carroll wrote, is that “many, many studies have confirmed” that autism is simply not caused by childhood vaccines. In his NYT article, Dr. Carroll cited two recent studies—a 2012 Cochrane database review of numerous trials involving a total of nearly 15 million children, and a 2015 retrospective cohort study in JAMA of more than 95,000 children, some of whom had older siblings with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Neither investigation found any evidence that the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is associated with autism spectrum disorders—“even among children already at higher risk for ASD,” the JAMA article concluded.

While Dr. Carson and Dr. Paul agreed during the debate about the conclusion of such studies, Mr. Trump offered anecdotal evidence of his own: “Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick—now is autistic.”

Mr. Trump qualified his statement somewhat by adding, “I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.”

Dr. Carson and Dr. Paul made similar comments that parents should be free to decide the timing of their children’s vaccines.

"Even if the science doesn't say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least," Dr. Paul said.

Dr. Carroll, in his article, took issue with this view as well. “I know of no data that supports this assertion. Pediatricians, as a group, overwhelmingly support vaccines and the current vaccine schedule,” he wrote.

Arelated article in The New York Timesaddressed the same issue. “When you delay vaccines, you increase the period of time in which you are susceptible to those diseases,” stated Paul A. Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

“It would be better for our vaccination policy for this not even to be a topic for debate, certainly not by those who aren’t immersed in the science of vaccines,” Dr. Carroll wrote. “Debating any of these facts does no one any good.”

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