The Autism Vaccine Debate Again

A classmate of mine from way back when posted a couple of interesting articles today that sparked my interest.

The first is a blog on Discover's website:
Discover Blog: Antivax kills.

The second is a publication regarding much of the research that has been done on the autism vaccine link:
Science Daily Vaccine and Autism Article

My classmate made a really good point about how it's easier for people to blame the government than their own DNA. I absolutely think this is the case. It's so much easier for us to believe that we can change things than it is to believe that we are doomed to whatever diseases our body has predetermined.

As in most things, I find myself firmly in the middle here.

Do I think vaccines cause autism? In general, probably not, but maybe in some cases.
Do I think the debate is over? Definitely not.
Do I think parents should avoid vaccines? NO!

This is a difficult situation because the waters are so murky.

First of all, the autism diagnosis is handed to people with a wide array of symptoms. As an ABA therapist I worked with children who many different sets of symptoms. At the time we frequently referred to that as high functioning or low functioning, but I don't think it was just on a spectrum of bad to worse. Some of the symptoms were qualitatively different.

For example, what about the difference between kids with autism only, or those with autism and mental retardation. Is it really that they have both, or is it that they have a qualitatively different type of disorder? We called the first category high functioning, but it's really just totally different. I had one kid who could read, write, draw, speak in sentences after being taught, but could express no emotion. I had another kid who couldn't sit for more than 2 seconds. Yes, they shared some common symptoms - language delay, eye contact, lack of emotional involvement, and a little OCD, but they were very very different and required much different treatment plans. I've got a ton of these types of comparisons.

Doesn't it seem possible then, that maybe we've grouped a whole bunch of different things into one lump called autism? Just so happens that mercury poisoning looks a whole lot like some of these kids, but definitely not all or even most. Some cases seem to be more about extreme sensory sensitivity than anything else. Others mimic the isolation and turning inward that happens to some kids after severe trauma. Maybe they differ so much because they are actually different. And if that's the case, doesn't it follow that maybe they have different causes?

And if THAT's the case, then it seems totally plausible to me that SOME cases of autism were caused in SOME part by vaccines. I find David Kirby's hypothesis in Evidence of Harm particularly reasonable. He basically says that some kids are born with a genetic defect that keeps them from processing toxins properly. In those children, when you introduce vaccines containing thimerosal (which contains mercury and other toxins) in high doses, you might get autism-like symptoms. We also see the same thing in small communities where there has been significant exposure to mercury through fish consumption or environmental waste. A genetic problem would also explain differences between communities that aren't accounted for by toxin exposure. Anyway - this is all a MIGHT for SOME of the population, and it doesn't actually state anything conclusive.

What we do know is that children are getting more vaccines than ever before, and that some of them are thought to be unnecessary by some parents. So do we stop vaccinating our children?
NO! I really haven't heard anyone rational state that parents should forgo vaccines. Even Jenny McCarthy suggests an altered schedule, rather than not getting vaccines at all. I personally recommend learning about the issue as a parent and working with your doctor to determine what you feel is safe for your child. Make sure your doctor takes your concerns seriously, and then listen. One mother described this process on her blog about an alternative schedule.

It is irresponsible to not vaccinate your child at all: to your child and to the children with whom he'll come in contact. I think the biggest takeaway here is that there are a lot of possibilities, but reacting out of fear won't help. Educate yourself by reading many sides. Read David Kirby's book, read all the stuff on both sides of the issue, then work it out with your doctor. Ask for thimerosal free vaccines whenever possible. When you get the flu shot, get the pregnancy version (the one with no preservatives). Just be smart about it, don't overreact, and approach it from a middle ground that makes sense. Would you really risk your child dying of diptheria because you were too scared to work out a better way?

Heather Armstrong wrote a great post about her feelings regarding the responsibility of mothers to vaccinate their children.

In the early 2000s in Arkansas there was a huge outbreak of diphtheria because parents didn't have great access to vaccines. I was at a talk with David Kirby and some safe vaccine advocates when a pediatrician from northern Arkansas, who agreed with Kirby about the possibility of vaccine and autism links, begged the crowd to get their children vaccinated. She had just watched a significant portion of her clients die because they just hadn't gotten the shot. Death is not an alternative to a fear of autism. Carrying a disease to another child who didn't get vaccinated is not an alternative to a fear of autism.

Some of my other posts about this issue:

Charity Divided
Missouri Thimerosal Ban
Autism and Vaccinations