In the midst of a nationwide measles outbreak tied to unvaccinated children and adults in California, the nation’s leading autism advocacy group has changed its position and now clearly states there is no link between vaccinations and autism.

“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism,” said Rob Ring, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, in a statement posted last week on the group’s website. “The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.”

“Vaccines do not cause autism,” said Rob Ring, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, the nation’s leading autism advocacy group.

“We urge that all children be fully vaccinated,” Ring said.

The new language replaces a 2013 Autism Speaks statement that strongly encouraged parents to vaccinate their children but did not rule out an autism link. The previous statement said, in part, “it remains possible that, in rare cases, immunization may trigger the onset of autism symptoms in a child with an underlying medical or genetic condition,” according to the publication Disability Scoop.

The change comes as public health departments across the country urge parents to vaccinate their children as measles, a highly contagious disease, continues to spread. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but has emerged in outbreaks in more than a dozen states this year because of  large numbers of unvaccinated children, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The shift brings Autism Speaks in line with decades of scientific research that have found no link between autistic symptoms, which often appear in children at age 2 or 3, and immunizations.

But the belief that there is a link has proven remarkably persistent among some parents, no matter how often it is discredited, research has found, and is cited by some as a reason why they refuse to vaccinate their children against serious and potentially fatal diseases, including measles. Statewide, nearly 17,000 kindergartners held a “personal belief exemption” that enabled them to attend school without the full regimen of vaccinations required by state law for public health.

Cindy Wilson, director of public health nursing at the Nevada County Health Department, interviewed six families in the county in 2013 about why they refused to have their children vaccinated. The county currently has the highest percentage rate of personal belief exemptions to vaccinations – 21 percent – in the state. Wilson said few families would speak to her about their reasons, but of those who did, “several of them said it – autism,” she said.

“They all seemed to have seen that the research was retracted, but they were just still not sure,” Wilson said. “They said, ‘I would be rather be safe than sorry.'”

The alleged link between vaccinations and the onset of autism took hold when the respected medical journal The Lancet published a case study, later found to be fraudulent, claiming that 12 children in England developed autism-like symptoms shortly after receiving the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

In the wake of panic among some parents, new research studies set out to investigate the claims made by the author, Andrew Wakefield, and found no evidence for his findings. In 2010, The Lancet retracted the article, following a ruling by a British medical tribunal that Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in his research. A few months later, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license.

In 2011, the British Medical Journal went further by publishing reports by journalist Brian Deer that found Wakefield had altered the medical histories of all 12 children in the case studies to create the impression that their autism or autistic-like symptoms were caused by the vaccine. Additionally, Wakefield had been paid to create false results to benefit a lawsuit against a vaccine manufacturer, Deer’s reporting said.

Wakefield had orchestrated an “elaborate fraud,” the British Medical Journal wrote.

Some, including the Wall Street Journal, expressed hope that the British Medical Journal’s reporting would put an end to “one of the more damaging medical scares in history,” what the Journal called “the vaccines-cause-autism panic.” And the Journal chastised The Lancet for taking 12 years to retract the original article, a slowdown that had harmed the public’s faith in immunization.

But those news reports didn’t seem to have an impact on the increasing numbers of parents in California and elsewhere who refused to fully immunize their children.

In some California schools, the percentage of kindergartners who were not vaccinated against the measles in 2013-14 was below vaccination rates in the developing world. In Sudan, for instance, 85 percent of 1-year-olds were vaccinated against the measles in 2013, according to the World Health Organization. That year, 54 percent of kindergartners were immunized against measles at Bolinas-Stinson Elementary in Marin County, 70 percent at Bell Hill Academy in Grass Valley and 63 percent at Canyon Elementary in Los Angeles County.

But for the first time, the percentage of kindergartners in the state with personal belief exemptions to vaccinations dropped in 2014, with 2.5 percent of kindergartners with those exemptions, according to the California Department of Public Health. The percentage rate had been rising steadily for years, from 0.6 percent in 1994 to 3.1 percent in 2013.

The drop in 2014 occurred after a new law was enacted requiring families to meet with a health care professional before obtaining a personal belief exemption. And last week, two California lawmakers said they plan to introduce a bill to eliminate the personal belief exemption. The bill would require parents to vaccinate their children before entering school unless a child’s health is in danger.

As of Feb. 9, the number of confirmed cases of measles in California was 107, with the majority of cases tied to a December visit of a measles-infected person to two Disney theme parks in Anaheim.

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  1. KML 3 years ago3 years ago

    I find it problematic that EdSource is contributing to polarizing the issue rather than educating. It lays the ground for what seems to be evolving into a witch hunt in N.A. by setting up who are villains, victims and mis-informed 'ignorants'. That's not what education is about. Here are a few points. 1. Of course Autism Speaks chief scientist is publicly, and responsibly stating there is 'no CAUSAL relationship'. In science causality … Read More

    I find it problematic that EdSource is contributing to polarizing the issue rather than educating. It lays the ground for what seems to be evolving into a witch hunt in N.A. by setting up who are villains, victims and mis-informed ‘ignorants’. That’s not what education is about. Here are a few points.

    1. Of course Autism Speaks chief scientist is publicly, and responsibly stating there is ‘no CAUSAL relationship’. In science causality is basically impossible to prove except for the case of ‘you are born therefore you will die’ Examples: many women have HPV but will never get cervical cancer. Thus you can’t say HPV in and of itself ’causes’ cervical cancer. There are many other necessary factors to consider that can trigger the HPV into developing cancer cells in a specific body. Similarly here’s a news flash: smoking does not ’cause’ lung cancer. Instead it is accepted that there is a high INCIDENCE of lung cancer among smokers. There are many cases of lung cancer that are seen in people who do NOT smoke. Correlation is very different than causality. So they are issuing a responsible statement to ensure that people understand that MOST kids are totally safe being vaccinated and that vaccines do NOT cause autism. However that does not rule out a positive correlation- if you understand the scientific difference in terminology and the complexity of disease. So I wouldn’t mis-represent this statement to say there is no link in all cases (see last point below).

    2. Go to this government site on who should NOT vaccinate. There are MANY legitimate reasons why people will not vaccinate or should not vaccinate. Suggesting that everyone who is filling out personal exceptions are religious freaks or fears science irresponsible. Suggesting that the 107 people who got the measles did not have legitimate reasons to not vaccinate is also irresponsible. To use this as an opportunity to fuel this emerging hatred of the non-vaccinated ‘other’ is not ‘educating’. It is simply ignorant and un-scientific to think we can fully eradicate diseases from the earth with billions of different immune systems and that all vaccines have zero severe consequences. Maybe the 107 people that have the measles fall into these exemptions. :
    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/should-not-vacc.htm

    3. Are you aware that Brian Deer is being sued for fabrication of his evidence against Wakefield? Or that one of the co-authors, who unlike Wakefield had insurance to cover his legal fees, has been exonerated? So in effect you are perpetuating defamation of character….Not very becoming of EdSource
    Go here to see:
    http://healthimpactnews.com/2012/british-court-throws-out-conviction-of-autismvaccine-md-andrew-wakefields-co-author-completely-exonerated/

    4. Lastly I read the Lancet article in 1999. It was NOT AT ALL a large conclusive study (see above link). It was a CASE study of twelve children that presented a HYPOTHESIS for investigation- raising an issue to research further. I am dumbfounded how it is that people continue to mis-represent the actual publication to dismiss it’s validity in the world of SCIENTIFIC investigation. Then again education does an extremely poor job of helping people understand science and scientific inquiry. How do people think hypothesis are derived? Often by CASE studies! He suggested that in some children (aka immune systems) the MMR vaccine can act as a triggering event that causes a toxin to be released that then may cross the blood brain barrier (if I remember the article correctly)- NOT ALL children. This is what SCIENCE is suppose to be about- being open to exploring new hypothesis, not shutting down inquiry. Sadly, Ed Source is contributing to a culture of shutting down inquiry and education rather than an openess to raising questions and objectively analyzing data. You might want to consider this great TED TALK by Dr. Ben Goldare how this is becoming a greater and greater problem in our so-called ‘scientific’ era:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vTSSxcNK4s

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vTSSxcNK4s

  2. Lenny Schafer 3 years ago3 years ago

    The science that public health uses to defend their own vaccine programs is bias confirming, conflicted, and self- serving. This issue is nowhere near settled and will never be as long as children turn autistic in front of the eyes of their parents after shots, and as long as public health gets more hysterical over 100 measles cases than they do over the life condemning disabilities of hundreds of thousands of children. Readers deserve … Read More

    The science that public health uses to defend their own vaccine programs is bias confirming, conflicted, and self- serving. This issue is nowhere near settled and will never be as long as children turn autistic in front of the eyes of their parents after shots, and as long as public health gets more hysterical over 100 measles cases than they do over the life condemning disabilities of hundreds of thousands of children. Readers deserve more than uncritical rewrites of government press releases.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

      Hey, there’s a guy named Rand Paul who has been saying pretty much the same thing. In many quarters, the scientific and public health communities for example, Paul’s comments have not been well received.

  3. navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

    I've mentioned this before, but the personal belief exemption is sometimes used to deal with logistical timeline problems (disconnect between child's age, immunization schedule and school starting dates). In other words it can mean that a child with such an exemption is not, in fact, unvaccinated, rather that the vaccination was done later and/or never reported. In other words, if you plan to get your child vaccinated after the deadline for reporting it to the … Read More

    I’ve mentioned this before, but the personal belief exemption is sometimes used to deal with logistical timeline problems (disconnect between child’s age, immunization schedule and school starting dates). In other words it can mean that a child with such an exemption is not, in fact, unvaccinated, rather that the vaccination was done later and/or never reported. In other words, if you plan to get your child vaccinated after the deadline for reporting it to the school, one way to allow the child to still attend school is to fill out the exemption form, even though they will be vaccinated.

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 3 years ago3 years ago

      Hi Navigio. Good point. I hear from school nurses that the drop in the number of personal belief exemptions this fall was due in part to parents bringing in their vaccination paperwork.