Many cases of autism are observed nowadays. Globally, there are 52 million cases of autism Such statistics prompted some scholars to assert that vaccines contribute to the high prevalence of the disease. Wakefield explained that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine increased the risk of developing autism since the components of the measles virus in the vaccine resulted in regression. Other researchers have reiterated that the mercury and aluminum found in vaccines may be the cause of frequent autistic cases in children. The link between vaccines and this condition fueled the suspicion of parents over the safety of vaccines. As a result, the public and individual were negatively impacted. The level of vaccination dropped below 75% immediately after Wakefield’s findings. Also, the cases of measles began to increase with some children dying of the disease. However, the link was disapproved after finding that the research by Wakefield was subjective, unethical, and against the public interest, what led to the retraction of his published article. Moreover, studies further claimed that the link had no basis since vaccines do not cause autism. Therefore, it is reasonable to vaccinate children because vaccines are safe and do not cause autism.
Autism is a common mental health condition that manifests mostly during childhood years. According to Baio (2012), autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a group of developmental disabilities associated with impairments in communication, social interactions, and repetitive, restrictive, and stereotyped behavior patterns. In their research, Baxter et al. (2015) report that there are 52 million global cases of ASD, what equates to the prevalence of 7.6 per 1,000 people (p. 601). On the other hand, the prevalence of ASD in children is approximately 1% although some studies report it to go even above 2.6% (Hansen, Schendel, & Parner, 2015, p. 57; Kim et al., 2011, p. 904). These disturbing figures prompted Andrew Wakefield, an English physician, to conduct a research after noting an increase in the prevalence of this condition among children immunized with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine (Plotkin, Gerber, & Offit, 2009). This paper looks forward to critically discuss the impact of this disproved link between the ASD and childhood vaccinations.
Association of Childhood Vaccines to Autism
Research studies have established a link between childhood vaccinations and ASD. In 1998, Wakefield suggested that the MMR resulted in an increased risk of developing autism (Ahearn, 2010, p. 47). The study asserted that a component of the measles virus found in the vaccine was also detected in the gastrointestinal system and became the primary cause of gut problems that resulted in regression. Plotkin et al. (2009) explain that autistic symptoms appeared in eight children within a month after receiving the vaccine (p. 457). These children had gastrointestinal signs and symptoms, which made Wakefield postulate that the vaccine caused inflammation of the gut resulting in the translocation of non-permeable peptides to the blood and finally to the brain affecting development (Plotkin et al., 2009). The research was finally published in the Lancet journal.
Further research also contributed to the strong association between vaccination and ASD. In their study, Gallagher and Goodman (2010) determined the relationship between hepatitis B vaccine in male neonates and the diagnosis of autism. Boys immunized as neonates had threefold greater odds for ASD than those who received no vaccinations for hepatitis B (Gallagher & Goodman, 2010, p. 1665). These findings showed that apart from MMR vaccines, hepatitis B vaccines predisposed children to autism. Notwithstanding, Hurley, Tadrous, and Miller (2010) suggested that children with ASD were vulnerable to aluminum and mercury, which are present in vaccines in the form of thimerosal. Seneff, Davidson, and Liu (2012) further asserted that there was a strong correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism probably due to the increased sensitivity to acetaminophen, which is administered to regulate body fever. The findings suggest that mercury and aluminum compounds found in vaccines may bear the responsibility for increasing the likelihood of developing ASD among children.
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Impact of the Association on Individual and Public Health
The impact of the association negatively affected both individual and public health. The damage to public health is still feasible due to the increase in the number of people doubting the safety of vaccines and unbalanced media response as well as infective government response (Hilton et al., 2009). The safety concerns diminish the willingness of parents to have their children vaccinated. Freed et al. (2010) found that the controversy over vaccines contributed to more than 11.5% parents refusing, at least, one vaccine with mothers being mostly concerned about autism and the adverse effects of childhood vaccinations when the disease is regarded (p. 654). The consequence of Wakefield research findings fueled the suspicion of vaccine safety, what became a threat to disease prevention through immunizations.
As a result, the prevalence of measles increased with some individuals dying. Although measles was nearly eradicated through vaccinations, the controversy over vaccines and autism led to the skyrocketing of this disease in the United Kingdom from 56 cases in 1998 to around 1,400 in 2008 (Ahearn, 2010, p. 48). It was the first time in a period of 14 years for both England and the Wales to declare measles an endemic disease (Godlee, Smith, & Marcovitch, 2011, p. 638). Immediately after Wakefield’s research, two boys died of measles because their parents refused the vaccinations due to the fear of ASD (Ahearn, 2010). Further, the MMR usage dropped below 75% in some areas, what predisposed the public to the menace of measles because people are considered protected only if the usage of the vaccine is at least 95% (Ahearn, 2010, p. 48). The effects of causal links of autism to vaccines have worsened the health of the public because of making parents doubt the safety of these immunizations. Many people have suffered from measles, a preventable disease that has even resulted in the loss of human lives.
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The Reality of the Association and Vaccination of School Children
Research findings refuted the claims made by Wakefield that MMR vaccine caused ASD in children. In 2007, General Medical Council (GMC) of Britain launched investigations to assess the fitness of Wakefield and his colleagues to practice medicine following the regression study (Ahearn, 2010). The GMC found that Wakefield was dishonest, unethical, irresponsible, and not acting in the interest of children. The controversial study on the MMR vaccine and ASD was not objective. The GMC established that the children in the research were carefully selected after some lawyers acting for parents involved in lawsuits against manufacturers of vaccines had funded the study (Eggertson, 2010). Ibrahim et al. (2009) further challenged the MMR vaccine-ASD association by asserting that children with autism did not display symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and gastrointestinal reflux the way Wakefield had earlier stated in the controversial study. After the GMC findings, Lancet retracted Wakefield’s article (Ahearn, 2010). Therefore, it is evident that Wakefield proposed biased and false results. He only did the research against the interest of the public.
Finally, human use of thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) does not impact the prevalence of ASD. Mrozek-Budzyn et al. (2011) conducted a study to find the association between TVCs and autism in Poland, a country that still uses TCVs due to economic reasons. Mrozek-Budzyn et al. (2011) concluded that there was no association between autism and childhood vaccinations after investigating 92 autistic cases against a control of 192 children (p. 339). Furthermore, children with the mercury poisoning demonstrate motor, sensory, speech, visual, psychiatric changes, and changes in head circumference. They neither develop autism nor display its signs and symptoms (Plotkin et al., 2009). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mercury that is present in most vaccines does not result in poisoning (Plotkin et al., 2009). Moreover, thimerosal is not found in MMR vaccines (Fombonne, 2008). Due to these results and the retraction of the article by Wakefield, it is justifiable to evidently assert that there is no link between vaccines and ASD. Therefore, school-going children should receive their immunizations for disease protective reasons since vaccines are beneficial and do not cause diseases.
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ASD has been associated with childhood vaccination, what has resulted in adverse repercussions for individual and public health even after the disapproval of this link. Wakefield showed that MMR vaccines cause autism. Other studies asserted that the mercury and aluminum in vaccines might have been the cause of the increased prevalence of ASD. However, Wakefield’s study was subjective and biased because his results were against the public interest. Other studies refuted the association between ASD and MMR vaccines. Also, thimerosal does not cause autism, and the dose of mercury in vaccines cannot cause mercury poisoning. However, the association had negative impacts because it led to the reduction in immunization rates among children whose parents questioned the safety of vaccines. As a result, vaccination rates dropped. Many children developed measles, and some of them died. School-going children should receive vaccinations because they contain and cause nothing to harm public health.