This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
One more time: No vaccine-autism link
Parents endanger their children when they don’t allow them to be immunized against dread diseases.
Many parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated aren’t paying attention to scientists, choosing to give more credence to anecdotal “evidence” and Hollywood celebrities. So there’s probably little chance they’ll have any more faith in a U.S. Court of Claims, which last week concluded no link exists between autism and childhood vaccinations.
One of the court’s “special masters” said that the petitioners seeking compensation for their children’s autism “have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding” of the condition.
Indeed, the Sunday Times of London reported last week that the original 1998 study linking autism to the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine – the one that touched off the whole controversy in the first place – had been manipulated for litigation purposes.
It shouldn’t take a court ruling to convince parents that vaccinations don’t increase a child’s chances of being autistic. Science has been saying that for years. Most recently, a study published last September by a team of Columbia University researchers found no link between autism and the measles vaccine.
Still, more and more parents are getting exemptions from laws that require their children to be vaccinated before attending school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites that as one reason it’s seeing more measles cases. Expect more uncommon diseases to become less so if the exemptions trend continues.
Parents who don’t allow their children to be vaccinated are relying on “herd immunity” – the idea that if enough other children are vaccinated, then diseases won’t spread. But at what point does that immunity break down? If only a quarter of children aren’t immunized? Half? Researchers have found that some diseases require as much as 90 percent of the population to be immunized in order for herd immunity to take effect.
Also, non-immune children will grow up to be non-immune adults who might come in contact with disease at some point in their lives – especially if they travel to countries where vaccinations aren’t as common as they are here or interact with a foreign visitor to this country. Someone who hasn’t been immunized against such diseases as smallpox, hepatitis, measles, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus and polio could wind up living a very limited – or dangerous – life.
Vaccinations are the reason so many dread diseases that once claimed thousands of young lives every year are now rare in this country. Parents who don’t allow their children to acquire immunity against those diseases do them a grave disservice.