Vax or Vex: What To Consider Before Vaccinating Your Child

Writer’s Note: It’s taken me longer than usual to write the piece below. I wanted to be sure I got it exactly right. I’ve read the content linked in bold below and I encourage you to do so, too. Read all of it, including the Safe Vaccine Guide on Generation Rescue.org, Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Treatment organization. Check out Merck’s user-friendly History of Vaccines. For the moment, ignore the CDC’s recent report that, as of early March, 12 states have confirmed 228 cases of measles. Speak to your pediatrician and/or your physician. If you’re faithful, speak to the head of your local place of worship. Then draw your own conclusions about vaccines, Autism, and what, if you have or choose to have children, you’ll do.

I’m a strong advocate of informed decision making, almost to overkill. I was asked to proofread an article for my husband last year and learned everything there was to know about South Dakota vs. Wayfair. I was recently assigned to create a chart comparing my company’s product to a competitor’s for a presentation. I caught myself poring over side-by-side spec sheets I’d downloaded from each company’s website.

So, in mid-2003, when my 2 1/2 year old started missing developmental milestones and acting out on play dates, I consulted my pediatrician, a pediatric learning specialist, and several child psychology tomes. When the local school district’s child study team and the head of pediatric neurology at a well-regarded hospital agreed my son had Autism, I researched everything I could. That included looking into the Autism/Vaccine connection… extensively. I worked for a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., MedcoHealth, at the time. I’m a parent. My child was diagnosed with a disability. I wanted to know “Why?” and “What caused this?”

A Recent History of Vaccines’  Connection to Autism

The vaccine/Autism connection first caught widespread attention in 1998. That year, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, published the landmark paper Ileal-Lymphoid-Nodular Hyperplasia, Non-Specific Colitis, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children in The Lancet, a world-leading medical journal.  Wakefield’s research studied 12 children with digestive issues followed by a loss of developmental skills. The paper claims that the loss of developmental skills followed receipt of the Merck’s Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, introduced in the UK in 1988. The article created a firestorm.

If you look at the table above, it’s easy to see why. Technically Wakefield’s article does not establish a definitive connection between Autism and MMR. The table, to a concerned parent seeking answers about Autism’s causes, does.

To date, over 200 research studies have been conducted refuting Wakefield’s study. In 2010, the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise (British Spelling) Panel concluded that Wakefield demonstrated “serious professional misconduct” during his research and in publishing the study. It was established that Wakefield was compensated by the legal council of the children’s parents.

By then, the Vaccine/Autism connection had taken a firm hold. The number of individuals diagnosed with Autism was approximately 1 in 88. The general public was just becoming aware of Autism, its causes, and potential treatments. Autism was still something potentially devastating. It was still a diagnosis to be feared.

What About All That Mercury?

Around the same time Dr. Wakefield was publishing his findings, awareness of the dangers of mercury, particularly in fish, came to the public eye. Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in multi-dose vaccine vials, was called into question by the public. As a result Thimerosal was eliminated from most vaccines.

For the record, the MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal. Today’s flu vaccine does. Alternative vaccines without it are available.

Religion and Vaccines

According to NPR, “All U.S. states require most parents to vaccinate their children…to be able to attend school. At the same time…most states must allow parents to opt out of this vaccination requirement for religious reasons.I’m paraphrasing for space issues. I actively encourage you to pause your reading of this Internet tome and check out the full NPR article by clicking the bold, italicized text above.

In a recent episode of Sawbones, Dr. Sydnee McElroy points out that even the Vatican, the highest ruling body of the Roman Catholic Church, agrees that “…the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

The Vatican’s statement relates to the use of aborted fetuses in the original 1960s development of vaccines. It goes on to say:There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.

The Choice Is Yours

The last lots of thimerosal-containing early childhood vaccines expired in 2003, Andrew Wakefield lost his license in 2010, and Autism has been all but proven to be a genetic disorder. Still, parents continue to question whether or not to vaccinate their children. Meanwhile, the number of number of individuals diagnosed with Autism continues to increase, from 1 person in 150 in 2004 to 1 in 59 at the end of 2018.

The rise in Autism diagnosis rates is directly related to advances in neurological science, medicine, and awareness. The vaccine question may remain because Autism still eludes standard definition. Autism is a collection of symptoms, most noticeably communication and behavior delays. Autism is believed to have genetic and environmental causes, but science still can’t say definitively what causes it. If you’re a parent watching your child struggle, you will look under every grain of sand for answers. Vaccines offer a concrete answer. Sadly, it’s not a real one.

Even if Andrew Wakefield had turned out to be right, I would have no regrets about getting my son vaccinated given what I know about the risks associated with vaccine-preventable diseases. Autism isn’t deadly. Certain vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, such as measles, are.

My son gets a flu shot every year, and so do I, for the same reason.

There are many individuals, such as Temple Grandin, who lead successful, productive, amazing lives on the Autistic Spectrum. Autism is challenging. Autism forces you to be the best parent you can be. It demands that affected individuals strive to reach well beyond their grasp.

Measles can lead to pneumonia, the leading cause of death in young children, encephalitis, another cause of death in young children, and prenatal complications including birth defects and miscarriage. There is nothing amazing about watching a disease take its toll on a child. There is nothing challenging about it. No amount of reach will exceed the grasp of an immune system permanently compromised by pneumonia.

The choice should be clear.

–CMR

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