There have been two inventions over the history of humankind that saved millions upon millions of lives. The first one is the toilet and public sanitation. The second discovery is vaccinations.
Prior to Jonas Salk discovering the polio vaccine, many children were crippled or died from the polio virus. Salk’s polio vaccine saved millions of children around the world from the devastating effects of partial or complete lifelong paralysis due to polio. These effects are very real. I still have some patients enduring the effects of polio caught as a child. However, these individuals are much older and are not really visible in society. Unfortunately, the real effects of polio are hidden from parents making the decision whether or not to vaccinate their child.
Vaccines have been successful in causing some deadly viruses, like small pox, to become extinct. The good news is that no one needs to get the small pox vaccine any longer because small pox is gone. Polio, too, was almost eradicated from the face of the earth due to vaccinations. Unfortunately, it is starting to make a comeback in several countries that are not prioritizing immunizations. Even the United States is developing sizable groups of unvaccinated individuals.
These groups of unvaccinated people are opportunities for vaccine preventable illness to grow and spread. One example in the news is measles outbreaks. One reason is because some parents still believe that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) will cause autism. Sprinkle in some news reports that rates of autism are growing, and this just adds to the fears of parents. Any correlation between autism and vaccines would be extremely important to ferret out. No medical professional wants to cause problems with treatments like vaccines. So this idea has been repeatedly explored through multiple studies with millions of children. Each time a large scale study has been done, it has reached the same conclusion. There is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
One difficult part of autism is that there are cases of typically developing children who seem to change direction and move into regressive autism. The period of regression typically happens around two years of age, and this is about six months after getting the MMR vaccine These stories are frightening to young parents. Such stories pack a powerful emotional punch that is not easily influenced with facts towards the safety of vaccines. Discussion of the results of large scale studies on MMR and autism do not carry any weight on the decision process for some parents. What is clearly needed is a better understanding of the causes of autism.
The good news is that the Treffert Center is working hard to discover the science behind the origin of autism. We are making some big inroads into this process. And what we are finding has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine. Genetics are definitely involved. Autism doesn’t just strike families at random, as would be expected if some kind of toxic exposure (like vaccines) played a role. It also turns out that there is a key step in brain development that occurs around the time when some kids start to show some signs of regression into autism. Focusing on these and other factors will one day shed a bright light on this condition. And your Treffert Center staff is hard at work on this task. In the meantime, vaccinate your child; their life depends on it.