Vaccine-autism connection debunked again
March 29th, 2013
11:08 AM ET

Vaccine-autism connection debunked again

Many expectant parents are wary of all the recommended vaccines their newborns are supposed to get in the first hours, days and even the first couple of years, believing that too many vaccines too soon may increase their child's risk for autism.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics Friday may put them at ease. Researchers found no association between autism and the number of vaccines a child gets in one day or during the first two years of the current vaccine schedule.

The research was led by Dr. Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Together with two colleagues, DeStefano and his team collected data on 256 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 752 children who did not have autism. The children were all born between 1994 and 1999 and were all continuously enrolled in one of three managed-care organizations through their second birthday.

The researchers not only counted how many vaccines a child was given, they also counted how many antigens within the vaccines children were exposed to over three different time periods: birth to 3 months, birth to 7 months and during the first two years. They also calculated the maximum number of antigens a child would receive over the course of a single day.

An antigen is an immune-stimulating protein found in a vaccine that prompts the body's immune system to recognize and destroy substances that contain them, according to the NIH.

Some vaccines, like Hepatitis B, only contain one antigen for this one virus. However, at the time these children were vaccinated, the typhoid vaccine had 3,000 antigens per dose and the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine had 24.

"When we compared those roughly 250 children with ASD and the roughly 750 children who did not have ASD, we found their antigen exposure, however measured, were the same," said DeStefano. “There was no association between antigenic exposure and the development of autism."

The researchers also found no association between antigenic exposure and ASD.

Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the science and advocacy group Autism Speaks, called the research a "well-done study." She was not affiliated with the research.

"The big challenge that we face is the fact that we still don't understand the causes of autism - genetic or environmental," she said. "So while this answers one question parents may have, we still have many more to be addressed."

Dawson and DeStefano both believe the study should be reassuring for parents concerned about the vaccine schedule. Vocal critics have argued that children receive too many vaccines too soon, and that the frequency of the shots is one factor in why some children develop autism.

"I would tell an expectant mom that one of the more important things you can do to protect an infant's health is get them vaccinated on time according to the recommended schedule," DeStefano said. He says vaccines protect against serious life-threatening diseases and delaying them can put your child unnecessarily at risk.

"The bottom line is the number of vaccines, or the number of antigens in the current schedule, given on time ... is not associated with a risk of autism."

In 2011, the British medical journal BMJ said a now-retracted study linking autism to the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella was an "elaborate fraud" that did long-lasting damage to public health. An investigation by the journal said the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study.

Wakefield told CNN's "AC360" that his work had been "grossly distorted" and he was the target of a "ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns."

The now-discredited paper panicked parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine. Measles cases increased in the ensuing years.

soundoff (360 Responses)
  1. andy f.

    seems pretty simple. vaccines work right? what do you have to worry about from the unvaccinated crowd? tell you what, you get your kids their "livestock/herd immunities" , and this family shall not. let's see who comes out on top? cheers.

    April 2, 2013 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      And every time your unvaccinated kids get sick and expose a child who CAN'T be vaccinated because of an immune deficiency, that's on your head. That's why herd immunity EXISTS – to provide protection to people who can't get vaccines. You're a selfish, arrogant fool.

      April 3, 2013 at 09:01 | Report abuse |
    • OrangePekoe

      Of course vaccines work. Many once dread diseases have been all but erased due to all of us getting vaccinated when we were young such as smallpox and polio. WHen you don't vaccinate you risk your kids lives and that of others who could not be vaccinated or whose vaccination, for some reason, did not provide complete immunity. They might get a less severe case if lucky but they vaccinating everyone is key. Parents who believe this nonsense when it's been disproved numerous times are idiots to risk their kids lives. There are lare areas in some states (California, for instance) where disease s are now spreading due to morons who can't think for themselves. There is NO EVIDENCE whatsoever that vaccinations cause autism! Get over it and get vaccinated!

      April 9, 2013 at 09:05 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      And when an infant dies of whooping cough (or other preventable disease) before it has had the vaccine, that is YOUR FAULT.

      June 2, 2013 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
  2. MitsosMedStudent

    This whole conversation thread is laughable. Yes, drug companies pay for the studies (b/c nobody else will). Do you have any idea how many studies run by drug companies actually fail? Do you know what it takes to get any pharmaceutical product through clinical trials and onto the pharmacy shelf?

    The risk/benefit profile of approved vaccines is favorable, and that's a fact. Neglecting to vaccinate your child is only doing him/her a disservice. Take some time to read about some of the infections/conditions that can be prevented by vaccination (diphtheria, polio, tetanus, etc.), and then maybe this conversation could be fruitful.

    April 3, 2013 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Twoshed

      I work at a university that does clinical trials for drugs routinely. Studies that are funded by drug companies are usually performed by the drug companies, but later in a drug's development, the studies are done independently (i.e., only gov't or independent funding) so that the results aren't tainted by drug companies' money. Of course, the companies are interested in real results too, because they can't market a drug that isn't efficacious to at least some degree. So to totally dismiss a study that was conducted by a drug company because it was conducted by a drug company isn't a good idea either. It's often used as a baseline to conduct an independent study.

      But as a med student, you probably already knew that.

      April 6, 2013 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Billy

      Pharmaceutical companies kill more people per year than those with guns! And you're suggesting I trust them to never taint their studies... You know what you're full of!!!!!!!

      April 23, 2013 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • woyndenis

      I hope you are not saying that there are no cases of victims of vaccines. Because I remember I read a leaflet of polio vaccine and it says there is an actual risk of one in a million polio cases arrising from the vaccine. That is not big number but there tells us something. I found some website talking about this http://t.co/6mIMBWy2jp

      May 21, 2013 at 08:14 | Report abuse |
    • parentslearn

      An alternative shot schedule (a bit delayed) is sufficient for those who will have a bigger immune response to the vaccines. No need not to allow the shots, just allow them more staggered and one at a time. It's a small percentage of kids whose immune system can't handle it all, and then it causes widespread inflammation.

      October 21, 2013 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
  3. Dznymom

    It's funny (not) how it was one idiot that misreported the vaccine thing as fact and how often it need to be repeated that it's NOT true.

    April 3, 2013 at 04:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Vance

    One study doesn't make it a FACT. Different people react differently to medicine or vaccines, and the developers of these vaccines have no idea what side effects, or just effects, the vaccine will have on the individual later in their life. Human guinea pigs.

    April 3, 2013 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Vance

      Parents should ask their doctor for a full list of ingredients in the vaccine. But perhaps more importantly, mother's milk is supposed to provide all the antibodies a baby needs, so what the mother eats is far more important.

      April 3, 2013 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • djc128

      Mom's antibodies only last for the first year of life. After that, you need vaccines.

      May 29, 2013 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
    • parentslearn

      Absolutely true, Vance. It depends on lots of factors, including any shots the mother received during or just before pregnancy. People more prone to inflammation, such as A blood types, are at a higher risk, as an example. An alternative shot schedule (a bit delayed) is sufficient for those who will have a bigger immune response to the vaccines. No need not to allow the shots, just allow them more staggered and one at a time. It's a small percentage of kids whose immune system can't handle it all, and then it causes widespread inflammation.

      October 21, 2013 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
  5. Safvertooth

    If parents, after weighing all the evidence, decide it is not In their children's best interest to receive a vaccine then they should not be forcedI into it. Though it may beBblatantly

    April 6, 2013 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Safvertooth

    If parents are able to look at the overwhelming scientific evidence of the efficacy for vaccination protocol and still determine it is not in their child's best interest, then they should not be forced into it. Though I believe this to be a grave mistake, it is not my child and I should have little control over their private health decisions. What is blatantly obvious to some may not be to others. For those who believe these individuals to be the epitome of irony and selfishness because most of them were vaccinated by their parents, take comfort in knowing nature has a way of eliminating this ignorant behavior from the gene pool. I do want to mention that since the now debunked and disgraced journal article was published in The Lancit, MMR vaccine rates have declined by as much as 50% in some areas, yet autism has continued to increase at rates approaching 700%. This is not too mention that rates of vaccination for most available vaccines have declined, many beneath the needed level for herd immunity. Nonetheless, if one factors out the scientific and medical advances allowing for better diagnosing of autism, the 700% increase rate does not correlate with the decline of vaccination rates. In fact, it runs contrary to the notion vaccines cause autism. It seems the data shows vaccines may decrease autism rates. Of course, it is not difficult to see correlation of data does not neccessarily equal causation. Then again, if everyone understood that, then this whole vaccine and autism conspiracy theory would never have reached the light of day.

    Cheerio All!

    April 6, 2013 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply

      Not your child? That very well may be, but I urge you to look into immunity as it relates to a community. immunizations and vaccines only work if a specific number of the community is innoculated. Otherwise the community is still at risk, immunized or not.

      April 21, 2013 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Yes, they most definitely SHOULD be forced into it, not only for their own safety, but for everyone ELSE'S safety as well. As April stated, when some people are vaccinated while others are not, it creates pockets of opportunity for a disease to flourish and mutate to the point where the existing vaccine would no longer be effective. This isn't a matter of opinion. This falls under the perview of extablished scientific fact. choosing not to vaccinate your child is tantamount to child abuse and endangerment. If you don't understand that and still want to opt out of vaccinations, kindly opt out of having kids, too

      March 6, 2014 at 14:08 | Report abuse |
  7. Pro-vaccinator

    To All Pro-vaccinators:
    I have a personal philosphy to not argue with idiots because they drag us down to their level and then beat us with experience.
    Please join me in congratulating all Anti-vaccinators in their glorious defeat of scientific evidence. They are true heroes to be able to stand up against scientific knowledge and tell it NO!

    April 7, 2013 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. kimberly

    If a person had taken a science class they would know the CDC study was lousy. No control group. Failed to publish info on the other harmful chemicals...etc. Just a very limited study with a small group of people that they studied. Read the research results. Consider the possibilities of causation. 1 in 50 kids have autism. Your educational system can't handle that many special needs kids. There is not enough money. Figure it out.

    April 7, 2013 at 03:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. autism mom

    To all of you who think that we are neglectful by not getting the vaccines. I got the vaccines for all my children. I have four. And on the last one things went wrong. I am not being neglectful, I am trying to keep my child alive. Three days on life support. Thats what it got him. Im not saying that it is the cause for all autism, but it is the cause for some. I am also not saying that you should not get the vaccines. They are a good thing. But why to we pump so much into such little bodies at one time. Doctor has recommended NOT to get vaccine for my youngest, as it has proved life threatening. And as for my other kids, we only do one vaccine at a time. Less for the body to deal with at once, and much safer for the child. Everybody wins.

    April 8, 2013 at 21:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Melanie

    IF vaccinations caused autism then NO UNVACCINATED child would have it .... but they do !!!

    April 28, 2013 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Melanie

    I had chicken pox as a child and it was HORRIBLE ... I had it so bad I had to be hospitalized because I had them in my throat and I had a very hard time breathing. I also had them in my nose and ears. I cried constantly because I was so miserable and I have a number of visible scars from them. Also in my 30's I developed shingles, which are blindingly painful, I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy.

    April 28, 2013 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Daniel


    April 30, 2013 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Clinical Ed

    I'm all for immunization our children. I teach Clinical Ed for a large Children's hospital. My concern with this article is that the picture you show is a child getting an intermuscular injection in the upper arm. This child is much too young to get a needle of that length in the upper arm. Why didn't you show a child getting injected in their thigh which is a much bigger muscle and is the recommended choice of the CDC. This picture is scary all in itself. A child being embraced by a parent and receiving the injection is the thigh would have been a more reassuring picture.

    June 27, 2013 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Tim

    This article presents a study that does not in the least prove that there is no link between vaccines and autism. The only thing it does is prove that the antigen in the vaccine was not the causative factor. How many ingredients are there in vaccines? More than just antigens. You have not done anything here except enable the pharmaceutical establishment to continue to lie to the world about the true causes of vaccine injury and many of the health problems we face – the pure poison they put in their products!

    October 3, 2013 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Herb Wagemaker MD

    The concordance rate for auyism in monozygotic twins is 90% This shows there is a large genetic factor in autism in
    dyzygotic twins its 30%

    October 14, 2013 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Cristina

    TO say it hasn't been proven that autism is a result of vaccines is true. To say autism is not caused by vaccines is NOT true. Nowadays we know we can acquire prion diseases (like MAD COW) from a blood transfusion or medications that have blood products, just a few years ago, that was not on the product labeling. Now we are admitting that variant CJD is the same thing as CJD or MAD COW and somehow it "jumped species". This was not known when I was in medical school in 2000, but I suspected it to be true at that time. My professors adamantly told me I was wrong. One of them being the head pathologist at University of Pittsburgh. I do believe autism is caused by vaccination ( and other things as well). Not every vaccine will nor every child will get it, we don't yet know who is susceptible and or why. But we will. Lets have this conversation again in a few years, when it becomes harder to hide the truth and when dogmatic minds are a little more open to different possibilities. And please, don't call someone who makes a different choice or has a different opinion, an idiot. We should respect different opinions and recognize, this country was founded by people who were persecuted simply for that, for a different opinion.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Nicole

    If these vaccines do work then unvaccinated kids shouldn't be a threat

    November 20, 2013 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • educationcomboplatter

      "If vaccines do work, why are unvaccinated people a threat"?

      Well...let's see:

      1)I worry about your kid too
      2)I worry about babies who are too young to be vaccinated
      3)I worry about those who medically can't be vaccinated
      4)Nothing is 100% effective – I worry about those whose vaccines just didn't 'take'

      I think all of those people deserve protection.

      August 15, 2015 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
  18. Korean Fashion

    You made a few fine points there. I did a search on the subject matter and found mainly persons will go along with with your blog.


    January 21, 2014 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. naturalmamanz

    Hate to burst your bubble, but this study in way way shows that vaccines are not associated with autism. In those who are susceptible, just 1 vaccine is enough to induce regression into autism.

    April 11, 2014 at 03:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. naturalmamanz

    This report provides a great rebuttal to the DeStefano study, showing how poorly it was done and that it in now way shows that vaccines are not associated with autism. It also provides excellent critiques for a range of other studies the media often tout as being proof of no link, but in reality the studies have major methodological flaws:

    April 11, 2014 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Barry

    Why do people believe everything they are told just because a study says so? There has been all kinds of fraud found in medical studies. I've never heard of an unvaccinated kid with autism. Have you? Amish kids don't get vaccinated and don't get autism.

    July 4, 2014 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lee

      I know 3. Just because you don't know them doesn't mean they don't exist. Maybe the Amish don't have the genetic predisposition to it, maybe THAT'S something that requires further study.

      January 2, 2015 at 19:46 | Report abuse |
  22. Diane

    Anyone looking into this to confirm it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGOtDVilkUc&feature=youtu.be

    August 25, 2014 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. drf8712

    Is CNN Health looking into this claim? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGOtDVilkUc&feature=youtu.be

    August 25, 2014 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ty

    Satan is hard at work with lies to harm children

    April 22, 2015 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Ty

    No if they are at risk it is due to illegals and drug companies injecting children with the viruses which cause outbreaks. Read the label. It says clearly there is a 28 day contagion period. The Amish don't go around spreading disease you idiot

    April 22, 2015 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. educationcomboplatter

    Umm...just spitballing but could we have it backwards?

    Is it more likely for example that adults with Asperger's/Autistic Adults (diagnosis is not the point at which people become Autistic, after all) are more likely to have children at older ages than neurotypical men are?

    August 15, 2015 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Confused

    I’m confused? I’m trying to be neutral here and non biased as possible to get to the bottom line. The anti vaccine folks oppose toxic chemicals being injected into human beings.
    The poison control folks confirm some of vaccine chemicals are toxic and illegal to inject.
    The PRO Vaccine position is that only small amounts of these toxins are used and that is OK! So how much poison is Ok to inject into humans and wouldn’t that be illegal too? Please help I’m so confused

    October 20, 2020 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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