Let's Leave Vaccines Out of the Conversation
Research from the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine has revealed the potential causes of autism spectrum disorders – and it has nothing to do with vaccines. According to the researchers, becoming autistic has to do with the mother’s “microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that naturally live inside us – during pregnancy” . Preventing the possibility of having a newborn with autism could theoretically all come down to adjusting the mother’s diet and incorporating probiotics .
The researchers tested their hypothesis on lab mice and discovered that neurodevelopmental disorders could be avoided by “blocking a particular inflammatory molecule” that stems from the immune system, known as interleukin-17a (IL-17a) . However, adapting the immune system during pregnancy could result in other undesirable side effects, which deems this approach risky. As a result, research still needs to be done in order to understand how to safely manipulate the IL-17a without negatively affecting the health of the mother and child.
John Lukens, lead researcher, addresses the fact that while his work connects neurodevelopmental disorders to the immune system, vaccines do not cause autism. Instead, as the research has shown, the development of autism occurs during pregnancy before one gets the chance to become vaccinated. Vaccines have been incorrectly accused of contributing to the development of autism since a research paper by researcher Andrew Wakefield was published in a medical journal in 1998. Wakefield’s discredited work claimed that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine had to do with children’s development of autism [2, 5]. His work spawned the anti-vaccine movement prevalent today which claims that vaccines cause autism, despite scientific evidence proving otherwise.
The anti-vaccine movement has been blamed for the resurgence of measles in the United States in recent years. For instance, in 2017 reports stated that Minnesota had at least 48 measles cases, due to anti-vaccine groups targeting the Somali community. In 2008, the Somali community began to question the link between vaccines and autism after parents noticed “a disproportionate number of Somali children receiving special education services for autism” . At that point, anti-vaccine groups began organizing meetings within the Somali community and even brought in Andrew Wakefield to present on his work on vaccines and autism. As a result the Somali community, which used to have “the highest vaccination rates for two-year-olds of any population in the state,” caused vaccination rates to plunge . Vaccine rates have also plummeted in Europe, with multiple politicians supporting parents’ rights to not vaccinate their children. In the first half of 2018, 37 measles-related deaths have been reported, as opposed to 38 deaths in the whole of 2017 .
Researchers are making breakthroughs concerning the cause of autism, and each breakthrough leads further away from Wakefield’s discredited theory that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Yet many still choose to not vaccinate, believing that their children could develop autism, as opposed to understanding that the development of autism occurs much earlier in one’s life. The anti-vaccine movement becomes especially dangerous when authoritative figures show their support for the movement and present faulty research as evidence, as has happened in Minnesota. With measles cases on the rise and many dying, despite having the means to avoid these deaths, more effort needs to be invested in educating the general public about vaccines and autism. The idea that vaccines are behind the cause of autism needs to be eradicated from the conversation.
Josh Barney, “Autism Risk Determined by Health of Mom’s Gut, UVA Research Reveals”, UVAToday, July 18, 2018.
German Lopez, “9 Myths About Vaccines and the Anti-Vaxxer Movement”, Vox, May 30, 2015.
Jacqueline Howard, “Anti-Vaccine Groups Blamed in Minnesota Measles Outbreak”, CNN, May 9, 2017.
Sarah Boseley, “Measles Is On the Rise in Europe - and Populism Could Be to Blame”, The Guardian, August 22, 2018.
Karl Knights, “I’m Autistic - Don’t Let Anti-Vaxxers Bring Back the Culture of Fear”, The Guardian, August 23, 2018.