Ask the Expert: Can Vaccinations Cause Autism?

Dr. Michael Martin, a Sharp-affiliated pediatrician, answers questions about vaccinations and autism.

  Can Vaccinations Cause Autism 
Why have immunizations come under fire?
Right now I find that many parents are concerned that there’s a relationship between autism and the vaccines we give in early childhood. They’re flooded with information from the media that perpetuates the concern or the fear that there’s a connection between autism and vaccines.

It’s all based on conjecture — it’s not based on truth — but it drives fear and it makes parents very fearful of vaccines. It makes them make bad decisions when they’re scared.

Do immunizations cause autism?
The simple fact is, there is no connection, and that’s what I try to get across to all my patients. They don’t need to worry about any causative relationship between vaccines and autism.

Where does this fear stem from?
This fear stems back to a study done probably 20 years ago where a number of researchers found that the MMR vaccine would deposit in the intestinal tract. MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella.

Since that study was published, 10 of the 13 original authors have recanted on it, said that it’s inaccurate and false. And there’s been over 20 studies that have clearly shown no connection between autism and vaccines, specifically the MMR.

A number of researchers attempted to replicate the original study and looked for evidence of measles in the intestine, and found that it wasn’t there.

Is there any support for this belief?
The truth is, science doesn’t support any problem with these vaccines, it doesn’t support any connection between illness and the preservatives. It doesn’t support any connection between getting too many vaccines at once. There’s no connection or logical explanation for overwhelming our immune systems; that’s not how the vaccines work. They work by building the immune system by making it stronger and thus able to fight off these awful illnesses.

So to answer the question about whether or not a parent should wait for more information, I would say definitively no.

What are the possible affects if children are not immunized?
Measles, if you contract it is a terrible illness; you’re very sick, some children with measles will die. In terms of mumps, boys run the risk of future sterility. With rubella, if little girls aren’t protected against this, they can have birth defects in their offspring later in life. So the risks are very real for not offering your children protection against these illnesses.

What advice do you offer parents?
I tell all my patients that they can trust my own gold standard, which is, what did I do with my own children? And I’ll say very clearly, that my children got all the vaccines on the routine schedule. 

Why do you think immunizations are important?
I know that they protect against disease, I know it’s good medicine, I know it’s good parenting, and I have no concern for a connection between autism and vaccines.

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Dr. Michael Martin   
Ask the Expert
Dr. Michael Martin is a Sharp-affiliated pediatrician.