PLATTSBURGH — Pediatricians, public-health officials and other leaders in pediatric health care continue to support the benefits of vaccinations and do not see a clear relationship between vaccines and an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism.
The issue has seen some increased publicity of late with a recently published article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology. The author, Helen Ratajczak, suggests there is a connection based on her review of the history of autism, but at least one local pediatrician refutes any connection.
"Vaccines and autism have been studied enough; we know there is not a link," said Dr. Heidi Moore of Mountain View Pediatrics.
The Centers for Disease Control released information in late 2010 that detailed its own study of the risk of autism for children exposed to vaccines. In that study, 1,008 children participated, including 256 children who had autism-spectrum disorders and 742 who did not.
The study revealed no increased risk connected to vaccine use.
"This new study adds more comprehensive data to the existing science on the safety of thimerosal (the ingredient of concern in vaccines)," the report states. "It is the most thorough to date because it is the first time CDC has gathered and examined maternal data and the first time CDC has examined ASD along with the various autism subtypes."
The connection between vaccines and autism was fueled in the late 1990s when a study by British physician Andrew Wakefield claimed to identify a clear correlation. However, that study was later refuted, and Wakefield was eventually stripped of his medical license in Great Britain when it was revealed that he fraudulently misrepresented statistics from the report.
Moore said she believes more attention should be drawn toward the success stories connected to improved childhood health because of vaccines.
"Look at how long it's been since we've had an epidemic," she said. "Look at H1N1 (the swine-flu scare of 2010). We thought, here comes an epidemic, and all of a sudden that virus is under control.
"We've been so far removed from things like the polio epidemic (of the mid-20th century) that we now take it for granted that these kinds of bugs aren't out there."
Moore promotes a regular regimen of vaccines for her patients. She does have parents who question their safety, but she does what she can to alleviate their fears and praise the benefits vaccines provide.
"There is just no relationship (between vaccines and autism)," she repeated. "That's been proven over and over. We're learning now that autism has a very strong genetic base, but we don't know what the environmental trigger is."
Those who have argued the connection exists have cited a significant increase in children with autism in the years since vaccinations have become so commonplace.
"It's dependent on how you classify autism," Moore said of the increased numbers. "We used to say that a severely debilitated child was autistic. Now, autism is a spectrum, including the severely disabled to being a little awkward socially."
Other countries that do not vaccinate to the extent that is done in the United States are also seeing significant increases in children with autism, she added.
"The use of vaccines is one of the biggest successes in science," she said. "It's a shame that people are still promoting information that is simply not true."
Since Wakefield's flawed study, 18 separate studies have investigated the possible connection between autism and vaccines.
Alison Singer, founder and president of Autism Science Foundation and a mother of a 13-year-old with autism, points to those research efforts as the evidence needed to emphatically support the use of childhood vaccines.
"They have all come back showing the same thing," Singer said in an interview published at CNN.com. "There is no link between vaccines and autism."
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