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Emotions must yield to fact in vaccination debate.

In Children and Family, Education, Health, Local News, National News, Opinion, Politics, Science, Uncategorized on February 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm

DIH LOGOFar more than scientific fact, emotion seems to drive the debate surrounding the relationship between autism and the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (M.M.R.) vaccination. In 1998, a British doctor released a study which tied M.M.R. to instances of Autism in vaccinated children. Although that particular report was discredited shortly thereafter, it continues to affect parental decisions regarding vaccination here in America.

Before being debunked, however, the British study went viral (pardon the pun) and many parents became convinced that, for children diagnosed with autism shortly after receiving M.M.R., the vaccine must be the cause. Once the power of suggestion took over and the British findings accepted as gospel, the damage was done and more people than ever began to insist that vaccines, the M.M.R. in particular, were causing higher instances of autism.

In most states, the M.M.R. vaccine is required before children can be enrolled in school. With so many students now enrolled who were never vaccinated, measles is starting a forceful comeback, to be followed, one could only expect, by rubella and mumps.

Fear of the spread of these illnesses has officials warning that unvaccinated students would not be allowed to attend school. But while the vaccination debate goes on, autism numbers are still climbing unabated. So what exactly is Autism and what really causes it?

Centers for Disease Control photo of a child with measles.

Centers for Disease Control photo of a child with measles.

According to the National Autism Association, “Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social and cognitive impairments, communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors. It can range from very mild to very severe and occur in all ethnic, socioeconomic and age groups.”

As for what causes it, well, therein hangs a controversy all its own. The short version is that no one, absolutely no one, really knows for sure.

A long list of factors related to the development of autism includes a combination or individual instances connected to … environment, genetics, chemical exposure, parental age, food preservatives, freeway proximity, pharmaceuticals, and prenatal vitamin deficiencies, just to name a few.

Although autism is treatable, it is a difficult condition that now affects 1 in every 68 children. People with autism often suffer from a host of other medical conditions including allergies, asthma, epilepsy, digestive disorders and increased susceptibility to viral infection. It is clear that research must continue in order to isolate the exact cause(s) of the disorder. But allowing potentially crippling or deadly viruses to regain a foothold is not the answer.

Vaccinations have been acquitted of being the cause of this awful condition and people should listen to the experts who are trying to help them understand that.  While definitive evidence for the cause of autism is still elusive, one fact is difficult to dispute. Without proper vaccination, more of the population will fall victim to serious, communicable illnesses that are known to be preventable.

Is it right then to put entire populations at risk of dangerous disease on the mere possibility that vaccinations might be one of the dozens of potential causes of autism? Most experts say no, but that doesn’t seem to slow the argument.

Once the British study was discredited, it seems in the best interest that children continue to be vaccinated as recommended. Keeping children safe is never an “us” or “them” concept and no one should have to take sides to preserve the health of any population when there are methods proven effective to do so.

As with any emotionally charged issue where facts and anecdotal information are confused or interchanged, the M.M.R. and autism debate will likely continue for some time. In the meantime, more people are contracting measles which means it is spreading beyond the “tragic kingdom,” as one New York Times writer referred to it.

If a solution is to be found on either side of this debate, emotions and “crunchy granola” thinking need to give way to real science. Until that time, these diseases will continue to spread and autism will be no closer to eradication.

For more detailed information on the relationships between vaccinations and Autism, please visit AutismScienceFoundation.org and nationalautismassociation.org.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is provided by GLD Enterprises Communications. More at gerydeer.com

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