Connections Between Vaccines And Autism

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Through many years of perplexing research, scientists have developed a life-changing creation: vaccines. It allowed humans to overcome deadly diseases such as smallpox, polio disease, whooping cough, and many others. This creation revolutionized the development of global health and extended the average lifespan. In some cases, vaccines may cause fevers or headaches, but in a very specific case, can they cause autism? A vaccine sceptic, Dr Andrew Wakefield, also a British gastroenterologist, “discovered” that a certain vaccine, specifically the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, causes children to develop autism. In this essay, I will oppose Dr Wakefield’s study and discuss that there is no actual relation between vaccines and autism.

According to Jeffrey S. Gerber and Paul A. Offit’s article, “Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypothesis,” In 1998,` in the United Kingdom, eight children at a hospital specified that they are experiencing developmental issues and were later diagnosed with autism. Dr Wakefield then discovered that these children all had intestinal inflammation and apprehended from the parents that the symptoms presented after they got their measle, mump, and rubella vaccination. Soon after, Dr Wakefield proposed that the inflammation was due to the MMR vaccine, which allowed non-permeable proteins (toxic if entered into to enter the bloodstream) to form brain development issues (2009, p. 456). Dr Wakefield decided to further research the association between vaccines and autism. To summarize, Robert Dachs outlined the Wakefield Study into three main arguments: 1) harmful proteins infiltrate into the circulatory system after children are injected with the MMR vaccine 2) thiomersal (a mercury-based chemical in vaccines) damages the development of the brain and nervous system 3) the increase of vaccines for children weakens their ability to resist diseases and infections (2010, p. 590). Wakefield’s study filled with flaws, eventually constructed a movement of gullible parents to convert to vaccine opponents/anti-vaxxers, due to their fears for the safety of their child.

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First of all, the main issues with his study is the lack of reliable evidence. Mark A. Graber remarks, that typically, for large scale-case like the Wakefield study, the evidence should always be supported by a sufficient amount of data and most importantly has a control group (2010, 590). Control groups are often used in experiments allowing researchers to demonstrate the association between variables, thus without one, would make it difficult to prove the causal relationship. And yet, Wakefield’s research was solely based on the small group of eight children at the hospital. Therefore, without going into detail we learn that the Wakefield study is lacking high amounts of evidence and fails to support its hypothesis.

In his study, Wakefield argues that symptoms of autism generally appear at a concurrent time as when infants receive the MMR vaccine. Therefore, he concludes: there must be an association between the two variables. Gerber and Offit falsify this when they establish their evidence of a vast amount of medical records and studies from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. The autism diagnosis rates increased regardless of the decreasing rate of MMR vaccinations. They also state that there is evidence of encephalopathic proteins present in the intestinal tract that may have caused damage to the brain (2009, p. 457). Hence, it is understood that there is no connection between the two variables and no factual evidence to reinforce his hypothesis. Therefore, this allows us to recognize that the correlation between MMR vaccinations and autism is not a fact but an assumption.

In Wakefield’s study, he disputes that one of the origins of deformity in brain development is produced because of the thimerosal chemical that is in the MMR vaccine. In response, Gerber and Offit, argue that thimerosal is an ethyl mercury substance that is used in certain vaccines to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in human bodies, and prominently states that it is not present in the MMR vaccine (2009, p. 458-459). This proves that Wakefield is greatly mistaken, and his argument highly misleading.

In “Mercury, Vaccines, and Autism,” Baker reasons that a main motive as to why people are still heavily against the handling of ethyl mercury, is potentially due to history methylmercury. In 2001, all vaccines containing methylmercury were removed. Children who experienced mercury poisoning would show major health issues (2008, p.246). Yet, it is known that with small dosage of thimerosal it would not do any harm to any infant/child. In response to Wakefield, Gerber and Offit displays three ecological studies from Sweden, Denmark, and Canada that focuses on the association between autism and thimerosal, which manifests that despite the removal of thimerosal in the vaccines, there was still a growth in autism diagnosis rates (2009, p.459). This evidently contradicts Wakefield’s propositions and displays that the MMR vaccinations are not a cause for the development of autism in children.

Lastly, one of Wakefield’s main arguments consists of the idea that the excessive amount of vaccinations given to an infant or child would weaken the immune system and impair their ability to resist eventual diseases or illnesses. In this case, Gerber and Offit, suggests that this claim is highly inaccurate. Although infants’ immune systems are not fully developed, vaccines have no correlation to lessening its capabilities of protecting the body from toxins. Also, there is yet to be any cases of children developing dysfunctions, regardless of the amount of increased vaccines (especially in recent years). Furthermore, vaccines barely demonstrate what the immune system is in truth capable of. As a result, there is no increase in children developing autism with or without vaccinations. As it is purely dependent on the biological factors of the individual (2009, p.460). To conclude, what Wakefield has achieved through his study, is not proving that there is association between the MMR vaccines but has demonstrated the perfect case of that association does not imply causation (Graber, 2010, p. 590). Wakefield manifests the example of a mistake that researchers commonly create when employing correlational methods into their studies.

The unprofessionalism in Wakefield’s study misleads the audience and can lead to life-threatening consequences. Baker specifies this, suggesting that it is due to the fact that many vaccine opponents are closely associated with people who are diagnosed with autism. Most anti-vaxxers are family members or professional workers that work of autistic children (2008, p. 249). In this case, many support Wakefield’s study due to their biased opinions. Also, his misleading reports, it has created trust issues between parents and physicians, believing that vaccinations can do more harm to the body rather than aiding it. The consequences of believing false information regarding vaccines, in this case, the Wakefield study, is the future of unimmunized children. Vaccines allow the body’s immune system to develop antibodies against certain illnesses. Life-threatening diseases such as whooping cough, polio, and measles were eliminated because of the practice of vaccines. Therefore, unvaccinated children would have highly sensitive and weak immune systems that are prone to any type of life-threatening disease. These children would be feebler and would not have the immunity to even survive certain diseases. From this, Baker emphasizes the importance of understanding all past studies and facts before formulating theories (2008, p.251). This case allows us to recognize to why we should learn to understand the reasons for vaccinations and to acknowledge medical histories/studies before constructing assumptions and spreading false information to prevent putting many children’s lives at risk.

The current main issue is to allow the anti-vaxxers to acknowledge the potential harm they are causing their children and the issue of preventing more parents or guardians from converting to vaccine opponents. Most opponents would rely on their own research from the internet. Therefore, what we should do is to allow parents to understand fully what chemicals we are providing and supplying their children with. This is to prevent further parents from relying on unreliable sources and believing the false rumours and biased misinformation given in news articles, social media.

To conclude, we are able to recognize that there are many holes and consequences in Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study. First, there is no reliable evidence provided in his proposition of the association between autism and vaccinations. Second, there are thousands of studies that contradict and disprove Wakefield’s hypothesis proving his study to be unreliable, misleading, and unprofessional. Thus Wakefield’s assumption in the relationship between vaccines and autism is purely coincidental and not causal. It is known that vaccines and autism have no scientific relations. The Wakefield study demonstrates that it is crucial for one to comprehend all history and former medical studies prior to making such facts to prevent risking lives over diseases that have prevention treatments. This allows us to further understand the complications and consequences such correlational studies can produce.  

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