Clarifying the “Vaccines Cause Autism” Myth – Taking a Deep Dive into the Evidence

“Vaccines cause autism” is probably one of the main things people tell me when they meet me and hear that I am autistic. I find it very frustrating because obviously the research overwhelmingly points to this not being the case. 

I did a radio interview with a Spanish radio station a couple of years ago and one question that came up – and one that comes up regularly in talks and radio call-ins that I have done, was around vaccines and how they cause autism. I was very firm about how that is complete rubbish and has been heavily researched since the claim was made and has been thoroughly debunked. 

Many people I know who are into healthy living and the whole ‘everything should be natural’ thing (which obviously is a good direction to take where we can) are also anti-vax people, they believe that vaccinations aren’t natural and cause autism and are untrusting of science, believing that drug companies benefit from us taking vaccines and so that is why all the evidence is showing that vaccines don’t cause autism, and that the people to listen to are the ‘brave few’ who stand up and tell the truth against these big companies. Many anti-vaxxer’s also often seem to believe that anyone standing up saying they are wrong, that vaccines don’t cause autism are either sheep who have never done their own research (when usually it is the other way round, anti-vaxxer’s have not done proper research), or must be working for ‘big pharma’.

During trials and research into why and who had autism, did these studies include people who were never vaccinated, are there people who are on the autistic spectrum who have never had a vaccination?

There are lots of people out there with autism who haven’t been vaccinated. Autism is as prevalent among unvaccinated people as vaccinated, so vaccines have nothing to do with autism. I, for example, never had the MMR vaccine and I am autistic. Most autistic adults born before the late 1960’s won’t have had the MMR vaccine and there will be people since then who either didn’t have the vaccine or had the three vaccines separately.

“In Japan they don’t use the MMR vaccine and autism rates are the same as they are in the rest of the World.”

Andrew Wakefield who suggested a link between autism and vaccines had a financial incentive for this to be the case, he had patented an alternative vaccine for people to take rather than the MMR vaccine which was his recommendation when suggesting people shouldn’t take the MMR. Wakefields research was seen to be fraudulent, he also issued a statement of deliberately falsifying research and was struck off from practicing medicine in the UK.

The inoculation rate for MMR in the UK was 92% before the Wakefield research; after publication, the rate dropped to around 80% (despite rates of those having the MMR vaccination being lower now, rates of autism diagnosis have increased (this is due to improved awareness and diagnosing, not that more people are autistic than before), if anything, if the MMR vaccination caused autism, you would expect a decrease in rates of autism following the significant drop in people having the vaccination, not an increase). In 1998, there were 56 measles cases in the UK; by 2008, there were 1348 cases, with two confirmed deaths, and there has also been a rise in mumps cases. People ignoring all of the scientific research and the fact that no-one has found a causative connection and the fact that the original person who suggested it falsified information to make it look like there was (his actual research carried out by a team of 12 researchers said they found no causal link between the vaccine and autism, but Wakefield made a video claiming there was and started pushing that idea) is terrible, it has led to increased sickness and unnecessary deaths, and now there seems to be a community of pseudo-scientists feeding the idea, which is then getting celebrity backing and unfortunately people follow celebrities opinions more than scientists opinions and the emotional nature of the subject is just keeping people trapped in a cycle of believing a lie rather than focusing on what can be done to help those who are autistic and accepting it is who we are, we were born autistic and will die autistic, nothing in-between caused us to be autistic.

Vaccines contain mercury, aluminium and other poisonous substances, couldn’t these  cause autism?

None of the childhood vaccines contain poisonous substances at a level which can cause harm to people and most don’t contain poisonous substances, full-stop. For example some vaccines need to contain formaldehyde which makes sure it is preserved and safe for humans. Vaccine ingredients don’t cause autism.

The substances are lower than in most other products people consume and what is ingested from the environment, and all the substances have a purpose, for example the Mercury containing compound (thimerosal) that used to be in the MMR vaccine in the past and is in no vaccines nowadays in most countries was to prevent fungus (and another point here is that an element in a compound is different to the element on its own, for example sodium isn’t good for you and chlorine isn’t good for you, yet salt (sodium chloride) is required for health and is sodium chloride (both sodium and chlorine together). Obviously too much salt is bad). Aluminium is in some vaccines but the levels are lower than naturally found in plants and animals that you eat and children get more aluminium from drinking breast milk than from their vaccinations.

Most things we consume (including things like vitamin C, oxygen, water, etc) are poisonous if the dose is too high. In fact nearly everything is, so when people point to certain substances in vaccines and how they are dangerous, they have to consider the amount of that substance and things like what happens with that substance in the body. If you ingest a substance at a very low dose, way below the safety threshold and it takes a week for your body to break that down and perhaps expel that from the body so that none of that substance is left in your body, then this dose is a safe dose and won’t cause you long term harm because in a week it will be like that substance was never there.

Aren’t scientists just hiding the truth so that they can make more money for pharmaceutical companies?

There seems to be a tendency, that I think is growing because it is so easy for ideas like this to spread through social media, especially if something can absolve guilt or responsibility from others – like a parent feeling ‘guilty’ that they had a ‘disabled’ child, but if it was a vaccine then it wasn’t their fault, it was the drug companies or the governments etc., and so they can channel their anger at that and what ‘they’ have done to their child. As humans we have a desire for meaning, we want answers, and when you know you are a parent who does your best and deeply loves your child you want to know why they are the way they are, you rightly know you didn’t do anything wrong to cause it, so you look for an answer that makes sense with your experience – like a child showing autistic symptoms around the time they were vaccinated (especially with regressive autism symptoms, this is a common time those symptoms show. 

Autistic children possibly have abnormally fast brain growth over the first couple of years of life, and those who experience regressive symptoms seem like they might have aggressive-pruning occurring after this rapid brain growth. Autistic people often seem to have too many synapses, which makes sense having too many connections and likely over-sensitivities, but some areas of the brain in a percentage of autistic children could undergo excessive pruning causing regressive symptoms which for some may last or be severe, for others they may last but not be too severe, and for many, especially with the right support, they may improve).

People are very good at misinterpreting data, so most people who don’t get their children vaccinated will have children who don’t have autism, but it isn’t the lack of a vaccine which led to their child not being autistic, it is that this is statistically what would happen, that most people aren’t autistic, so most children won’t be autistic whether they were vaccinated or not. Also mistaking two events happening near each other as one causing the other – it just happens that vaccines are given at a time when autistic traits are likely to start being more noticeable, it doesn’t mean vaccines cause autism, it just means vaccines are taken about the same time as autistic traits become more pronounced. 

I have had people tell me maybe I am autistic because of vaccines or because of a vitamin deficiency or because of unloving parents, etc. Rather than people just accepting me for who I am, which is what I would prefer people to do. I was born autistic, I developed autistic, I will live autistic and I will die autistic. Vaccines, vitamins and parental love or lack of love didn’t play any role in me being autistic.

If someone is interested in doing their own research it is important that they look at peer-reviewed studies, consider the strength of evidence for and against something, that you look at the form the evidence takes, as not all evidence is weighted equally, for example, individual testimonies should lead to researchers perhaps asking questions and looking at the evidence and carrying out studies, but testimonies aren’t strong enough evidence in isolation. For example, many self-made millionaires or other highly successful people, whether musicians, actors or even YouTuber’s etc, say they ignored those who said they couldn’t achieve what they wanted, that they just had drive and motivation and kept following their dream. Unfortunately, this is also the process for failure, it is just that only the successful people talk about how they became successful doing this.

Likewise, with vaccines, there are many more people who have had their children vaccinated and their child isn’t autistic, so they don’t say anything or think anything of it. This doesn’t in itself mean that vaccines don’t cause autism in some children, what it does is suggest it could be worth looking at the data and carrying out studies to find out the truth (for example, a hypothesis could be that certain children with specific genes react to a compound in a vaccine in a way which triggers an epigenetic change which causes autism in those children – this could be a hypothesis of researchers, so they may look at the data and do research and see if this is true, but firstly they need to see if it is true that more people who receive vaccination are autistic than the percentage of people among those who aren’t vaccinated. If they can identify that this is true, then they would hypothesise what could be going on.

Obviously when scientist have done this, they find there is no difference and so they don’t have to look at how a vaccine may cause autism, because they know autism isn’t more prevalent among vaccinated people vs unvaccinated). It is known that signs of autism often begin to show around the same time as children have their vaccinations. This doesn’t mean the vaccines cause autism, they just happen to occur around the same time as each other. There are many more children whose social skills and language skills significantly improve at this time, so given that within vaccinated children this is the most prevalent outcome it could be argued that maybe vaccines cause an increase in social and language skills. 

Clearly people would argue that this is stupid, I am just talking about children developing normally and this has nothing to do with vaccines, yet they would argue that the autistic children are somehow impacted by the vaccine despite the fact that we know autistic people are born autistic, just like non-autistic people are born non-autistic, vaccines have nothing to do with this. Vaccines causing autism doesn’t explain all of the autistic people who have never been vaccinated or never received specific vaccinations. I didn’t have all my vaccinations as a child, because of this, in high school I had measles. 

Vaccines didn’t make me autistic. Vaccines causing autism also doesn’t explain why it should be that the same percentage of people are autistic among those who have been vaccinated as those who haven’t. If vaccines cause autism then there should be a higher number of autistic people among vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people, there would also need to be a testable hypothesis (as mentioned above, and this would only need to be done once it is identified that a higher percentage of vaccinated people are autistic compared to the percentage among unvaccinated people) about what the process is by which vaccines cause autism, this can then be tested and either confirmed or debunked.

Isn’t the Bailey Banks vaccine court case or the Hannah Polling case evidence that vaccines cause autism?

It doesn’t take much research to discover that this isn’t evidence vaccines cause autism. In the title of the ruling in the court document the PDD (Pervasive Developmental Delay – which is what people are focusing on as being the ‘autism’ caused by the vaccination) is described as ‘non-autistic developmental delay’. Neurologist Dr Ivan Lopez diagnosed Bailey as having developmental delay, but that it wasn’t autism because the developmental delay was probably caused by acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Bailey’s pediatrician acknowledged that his use of the term autism in diagnosing Bailey was used merely as a simplification for non-medical school personnel and that Pervasive Developmental Delay is the correct diagnosis. Another pediatrician said Bailey’s condition “seems to be a global developmental delay with autistic features as opposed to an actual autistic spectrum disorder.”

The case was about proving whether the MMR vaccine could cause ADEM and whether ADEM could cause PDD (not autism, although the diagnosis the pediatrician had given, as mentioned above was PDD-NOS which is a diagnosis that comes under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder, but as mentioned, the term was used merely as a simplification. It is also the case the PDD isn’t a diagnostic condition, so to give a diagnosis the likely closest condition would be PDD-NOS).

The argument was that the MMR vaccine can cause ADEM. In a recent study there was no connection found. From researching, there appears to be no current evidence of the MMR vaccine causing ADEM and so if it does it is extremely rare, in the one vaccine where a possible association was found the rate was around 1.16 cases of ADEM per million vaccines administered, so any possible association with the MMR vaccine would be rarer than this (some places still quote a maximum rate of 2 cases of ADEM per million MMR vaccinations, but the research seems to point to this just being a conservative ‘worst-case’ amount based on reporting). It would likely be one person experiencing ADEM in many millions of people vaccinated.

The next step is whether ADEM can lead to PDD. This is also likely to be rare if it does. There is information about how perhaps as many as 3 in 10 people who develop ADEM can have motor deficiencies and short-term, people can experience neurological deficits. These usually improve over a period of days to months, but a minority of children can be left with mild to severe neurological impairment. So, although there is no clear evidence of PDD being caused by ADEM, it could be that it could occur in rare instances. This is what was concluded in the court case, that there is above 50% chance that in this case the vaccination had caused the ADEM which had led to PDD. This is just one case and this is a court judgement not a scientific study. It even says in the report that these claims were made with no supporting scientific evidence, but it was still felt that what was being proposed was plausible.

Just to put all of this into perspective, if you get measles you have a 1 in 1000 chance of getting ADEM, so even if there is a conservative estimate of getting ADEM from the MMR vaccination of 1 in 1 million, that means that a child receiving a vaccination has a 1 in 1 million chance of getting ADEM and off the back of this, a very small chance of developing PDD, so the chances of this happening to your child would be very unlikely. Or if the child doesn’t get vaccinated and if they get measles then they have 1 in 1000 chance of getting ADEM which is significantly more likely than it would have been with vaccination and so even though PDD would still be unlikely, it is a more likely outcome than if the child had just had the vaccination, and this is just with measles. Rubella leads to developing ADEM in around 1 in 20,000 cases. If most of the population is vaccinated then rates of people getting measles, mumps or rubella are low, but the more people who don’t have their children vaccinated, the more those children will get measles, etc., and the more chance a child has of then having ADEM. So, rather than anti-vaxxer’s reducing the chance of their children being autistic, if they believe that ADEM can lead to PDD (and believe from this case that this means ADEM can lead to autism) then an unvaccinated child is at greater risk of becoming autistic compared to a vaccinated child, especially if significant numbers of children go unvaccinated leading to an increase in cases of measles.

The trouble with using court cases as evidence to support the idea of vaccines causing autism is that they aren’t making judgements based on whether the vaccine caused autism, but on whether a plausible mechanism for how this could happen is proposed and there is a reason for this. This article stated: “Initially, the standard used by the Court to assess causation was “a preponderance of evidence.” Using that standard, scientific evidence was generally held in higher regard than testimonial evidence, even though the argument for vaccine-related injury might appear to be plausible. Several years ago, however, the Court changed the standard used to one simply of “plausibility.” Using that standard, the Court might rule that a particular injury case was vaccine-related if a plausible biological argument could be made that the injury might have been caused by a vaccine, even though researchers of sound epidemiologic studies identified no evidence of such a relationship….For many who are hesitant about giving their children recommended vaccines, [that] this ruling is seen as an admission by the U.S. government that vaccines may cause autism. Not so, claimed the CDC. “Let me be very clear that the government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism,” said Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, CDC director. “That is a complete mischaracterization of the findings of the (Hannah Poling) case and a complete mischaracterization of any of the science that we have at our disposal today.”

In the Hannah Poling case, Hannah Poling had an underlying serious health condition and so isn’t typical of most children, so even if it turned out that the vaccine mixed with her health condition caused autism it would be very rare as this is the only example out of many millions of people vaccinated that we have and if it was felt that this was a possibility then other similar people would be likely recommended not to have that vaccine to prevent them from potentially having a similar problem, this is one reason why you want herd immunity, so that the child perhaps with similar health problems to Hannah Poling where that child’s Doctor recommends that they don’t get vaccinated (which would be unlikely due to the poor evidence, but we are talking here about ‘what-if’s’) then the parents can be comfortable in the knowledge that most other people are vaccinated so that their child is at a low chance of contracting Measles, Mumps or Rubella. It is difficult for scientists to work out whether there is a causal link from a single case like this, or possibly even to 100% conclude there wasn’t a causal link. All they may be able to conclude is that if there is a causal link it is incredibly rare and only likely to have a chance of occurring in a very rare and unlikely set of circumstances. So a payout in a court doesn’t mean that the science concluded that the vaccine caused autism, just that a plausible way that it could be possible was presented and the court felt it was a plausible enough way. It doesn’t have to be ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ just ‘better than 50% chance that it could be what you are saying’. Likewise, many cases are settled without conclusion and these aren’t settled meaning scientist now conclude vaccines cause autism, just that it was decided and agreed to settle and bring the case to a close rather than dragging it out and having all the costs involved. Currently the science seems to point to autistic people being born autistic with signs of autism being visibly evident usually within the first year or two of life and specialists can notice signs earlier than this from a child’s behaviour. There are also tests which can be done in about 3-9 months which are under research which seem to have a high success rate of showing whether someone is autistic based on their brainwaves. It may in the future turn out that one or more environmental things post-birth cause autism in some people within the first few months of life (it obviously has to be something which leads to impacting on brain development that takes place in the first few months of life), but currently it seems autism is hereditary in about 80% of autistic people, the other 20% or so involves things like premature birth, older parents, and various other prenatal environmental factors and mutations in the mothers egg or fathers sperm. There may well be environmental factors which impact on the severity of autism symptoms and how the autistic person develops, with the most recently publicised studies probably being the ones about the impact gut bacteria has on autism and how changing gut bacteria can have a significant impact on autism symptoms and the IBS which many autistic people experience, but there is no evidence of vaccines causing autism, or of anything else causing autism after the birth experience. There is some evidence that things like lack of breathing or other brain-trauma incidents occurring at birth can potentially lead to autism, that if the mother has Rubella during pregnancy, the child has a 7% chance of being born autistic (even more reason to have been vaccinated!) and a very low possible increase in having an autistic child if the mother has flu or is on antibiotics during pregnancy.

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