Can Vaccines Cause Autism?

By raluca.olariu@…, 27 October, 2021
vaccine text and hand holding a Syringe

There has been a lot of debate about whether vaccines cause autism.

The evidence is inconclusive, but the theory that they do is still widely held by parents who are concerned for their children's health.

There have also been many cases where autistic symptoms were seen in vaccinated people after receiving multiple vaccinations at once. This led to concerns over possible links between vaccination and autism. However, there was no link found when researchers looked into this issue regarding the development of autism.

In fact, it seems like some vaccines may actually help protect against developing autism later on in life.

Can vaccines cause autism?

No. There is currently not enough scientific evidence to prove or disprove any connection between vaccines and the risk of autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics states: "Vaccines can be given safely to all infants."

The whole story of vaccines and autism spectrum disorder started in 1998 with Andrew Wakefield.

He claimed he had discovered an association between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism. His study was published in the medical journal Lancet. It suggested that MMR could trigger bowel disease, which then caused autism. But his research was heavily criticized as being flawed.

In 2004, the British Medical Journal said that Wakefield's work "was based upon fraudulent data and false claims."

In 2010, another researcher named Dr. Brian Hooker came up with similar findings of the development of autism.

His paper showed that kids whose mothers received certain flu shots during pregnancy were more likely to develop autism than those without them. But again, critics say that Hooker's results were too small to make conclusions from.

Is thimerosal linked to autism in children?

Thiomersal is a mercury compound used as a preservative in childhood vaccines. Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, one form of mercury.

Some studies suggest that exposure to methylmercury during pregnancy might increase the risk of developmental disabilities such as autism. Other studies show no increased risks associated with prenatal exposures to either type of mercury.

This ingredient used to be added to childhood vaccines until 2001. Thiomersal is now banned from use in most countries around the world because mercury poisoning is dangerous.

General studies have shown that thimerosal-containing vaccines are not linked to autism or other brain development disorder. A recent review concluded that thimerosal does not appear to affect the immune system, cause developmental problems, or increase the risk of autism.

However, more than 100 studies have investigated potential associations between thimerosal and neurological diseases, including autism spectrum disorders. These studies did not find conclusive results regarding a causal relationship.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine recommended for individuals on the autism spectrum?

Yes. In March 2020, the World Health Organization announced its recommendation for Covid-19 vaccine trials for individuals aged 18 years and older with mild illness. They recommend testing those with ASD and intellectual disability first.

They say that these groups should receive priority access to clinical trial sites and resources. For example, if you're diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, your doctor will likely ask you questions about how well you understand instructions and social cues.

To make the vaccination experience a calm, sensory-friendly one for people on the spectrum, the UC Davis MIND Institute has launched a new COVID-19 vaccine clinic. It is custom-designed for individuals on the spectrum and other neurodevelopmental disorders. "This clinic really focuses on quality rather than quantity," revealed Scott Akins, director of UC Davis Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics. "We want to provide an inclusive, supportive experience for families, so we're vaccinating three families per hour, which allows us to have three quiet rooms, an uncrowded waiting area, and staff fully dedicated to each patient."

Akins also reveals that there are multiple concerns regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for people with autism. "Many families asked the question, 'Have other individuals with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities had this vaccine and is this vaccine safe for people with my healthcare condition?'" said Akins. "That was a really common concern, and now six months into vaccinating, we do know that is it safe for all individuals, including those with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities."

READ MORE: 10 Activities for Children with Autism During a Pandemic

How to prepare children with autism for taking a vaccine?

As with any new situation that individuals with autism face, taking a vaccine might trigger anxiety and fear. This can lead to increased stress levels and even panic attacks. To help children cope with vaccinations, parents need to create a plan ahead of time. Here's what they can do:

1) Educate yourself about autism and vaccines so you can position yourself as a trustful advisor and answer any questions your kid might have. Make sure to provide all the details necessary before administering the shot. For instance, explain why the vaccine is needed, who needs it, when it must be given, where it will go, etc.

2) Prepare your child by explaining in advance what they may feel during the process. If possible, practice giving shots at home using a model like a doll. Explain to them that the injection won't hurt but that sometimes their body reacts differently from others. You could use words such as "sensation" or "pain."

3) Create a calming environment before administering shots. Make sure everyone involved knows where everything is located. Also, keep the noise down as much as possible to avoid sensory overload.

4) Give your child plenty of opportunities to express his feelings throughout the day after receiving the shot. Ask them if anything happened while getting vaccinated.

5) Keep track of changes in behavior following the administration of the vaccine and encourage your kid to share these experiences with you.

6) Talk to your doctor about how best to manage reactions to the vaccine. Some kids react more strongly than others. They may require additional doses or medication.

7) Be prepared to take action should your child become aggressive or agitated. In some cases, sedation medications may be required.

8) Finally, remember that every person responds differently to vaccines, and be patient with your child as they go through this new experience.

Vaccinating is a personal decision.

As on any subject, there are multiple opinions and attitudes towards vaccination. For now, there is no link between vaccines and the development of autism.

The decision to vaccinate children with autism or vaccinate yourself as an adult on the spectrum is very personal. You can consult your doctor and do your online research before, but in the end, the decision is yours.

Vaccine safety can not be 100% guaranteed but it has been proven over decades that vaccines are extremely safe and the risk-benefit ratio is favorable.

Photo credit: Thirdman on Pexels.