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Discussing Vaccines and Autism

Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

Some parents of children with ASD wonder whether a link exists between autism and vaccines. The concern first started with the MMR vaccine, an immunization against measles, mumps, and rubella. Some parents believe this vaccine causes the onset of autism. Despite these strongly held beliefs by proponents of the vaccine theory, there is no scientific proof that the MMR vaccine—or any other vaccine—causes autism.

Correlation in Time

What does exist is a correlation in time between when children are immunized and when they are diagnosed with autism. In other words, children are vaccinated at various times throughout early childhood. ASD is also often diagnosed during early childhood. Just because two events like these happen around the same time does not mean that one causes the other (“correlation does not equal causation”). Media reports, activist groups, and even some respected medical professionals (turned authors) can scare people with more subjective evidence into believing vaccines cause autism.

Research Supports Vaccinating

The onset of autism in a child likely occurs long before developmental delays or behaviors emerge, quite possibly before a child is born. For many children, signs of ASD exist from birth and their development is never typical. A smaller percentage of children seem to develop typically. Then, usually between ages 1 and 2, they regress (or appear to lose skills). Children who experience this regression present the most puzzling evidence for a vaccine-autism link. Researchers have investigated the link in these children specifically but still no evidence for a link between autism and vaccines was found. Relative to the total number of people with ASD, very few parents actually report a dramatic loss of skills associated with a specific vaccination. However, parents who choose not to vaccinate their child (hoping to protect against autism) expose their child to other health concerns. And unfortunately, some of these unvaccinated children develop ASD anyway. Because professionals cannot provide parents a definitive explanation for the onset of autism in their child, any parent questioning the role of vaccines is understandable, but science does not support a link.

SARRC’s Message on Vaccines

At SARRC, we believe the ultimate decision to vaccinate a child is a personal choice. If asked, we would recommend vaccinations because dozens of reputable scientific studies have failed to show a link between vaccines and autism, while numerous other studies demonstrate that the risks from the diseases the vaccines are meant to prevent are dangerous to a child’s health and well-being. Our research focuses on early identification of autism because it leads to early intensive intervention, which is the most important support we can provide for a child diagnosed with autism at this time. Read more about autism and vaccines in a Q&A with SARRC’s Vice President and Research Director Christopher J. Smith, PhD,  here.