It has been two decades since Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s now discredited and retracted study on the connection between autism and vaccines was first published in the Lancet in 1998. His findings alluded to a causal relationship between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism disorder. 20 years and countless research studies later, there is still an ongoing debate and a considerable amount of people who are misinformed and misled due to this one piece of incorrect and unethical research.
A recent article published by PBS.org discusses the rising rates of autism in the United States as reported by the CDC and delves deeper into what an increase means. According to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, based on current reports released this year, 1 in 59 children in the US have autism spectrum disorder. Reports on the prevalence of autism are released once every two years, with the CDC partnering up with hospitals to measure the prevalence and evolution of autism spectrum disorder. The survey is known as the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network and is spread out across the entire country.
One important factor that plays a role in the screening and diagnosis of autism is socioeconomics. The current rise in rates has, for the most part been attributed to the improved examination and diagnosis in minority communities. Past research has found white and Asian children are more likely to be diagnosed than black and Hispanic children. “In 2012, the ADDM survey detected 20 percent more cases of autism in white versus black children. Compared to Latino children, the gap was even larger, at 50 percent” (Akpan, 2018). If the rates of autism only grew because of better diagnosis and outreach, that isn’t to say autism is becoming more common it indicates that doctors are becoming more adept at spotting it. The prevalence and rates of autism vary widely by region and until screening is uniform across the nation, it will be challenging to completely determine the extent to which various factors contribute to the development of autism. In comparison to what we spoke about in class regarding the prevalence of autism, it is clear now that autism may not be more common in white, high income families just that they have better access to screening and mental health professionals than do other groups. The options are very limited for those that come from lower socioeconomic status which can prevent children from receiving the care and guidance that they need to grow and function with whatever illness they are dealing with, especially autism.
At the same time, any rise in the autism rate is met with a strong public inquiry, with parents of autistic children still seeking a cause and a cure. Andrew Wakefield’s study twenty years ago still lives on in the minds of parents with children diagnosed with autism and even those without. Since Wakefield’s publication, there have been numerous studies conducted in search of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, the evidence shows no link. Nevertheless, the belief in a connection continues to thrive with one recent study finding children whose older siblings have autism are around 14% less likely to be vaccinated than siblings of those without the disorder (Glickman et al., 2017). As a result of Wakefield’s incorrect findings, MMR immunization rates have dropped in the U.S. and Europe. A 2014 outbreak of measles at Disneyland was also directly attributed to misinformation about vaccines and autism.
The findings and information provided in the news article published by PBS.org can be attributed to scientific articles from The New England Journal of Medicine. Two of the main articles focus on the study of the MMR vaccine and autism and the vaccination rates among younger siblings of children with autism. The first article was a population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism; a retrospective follow up study done on children born in Denmark from 1991 through December 1998 and provides strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccine causes autism. MMR vaccination status was determined on the basis of vaccination data reported to the National Board of Health by general practitioners, who administer all MMR vaccinations in Denmark. Vaccination was treated as a time-dependent covariate, with children assigned to the non-vaccinated group until they received the MMR vaccine. The proportion of children vaccinated was the same among boys and girls. The relative risk was calculated with adjustment for age, calendar period, sex, birth weight, gestational age, mother’s education, and socioeconomic status (Madsen et al., 2002).
Madsen et al. (2002) brought up three arguments as to why there is no causal relationship between MMR vaccination and autism, the first is that autism risk was similar in both vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Another finding was that there was no temporal clustering of cases of autism at any time after immunization and neither autistic nor other autistic spectrum disorders were associated with MMR vaccination. The study also found that the increase in autism occurred well after the introduction of the MMR vaccine.
The second scientific article focused on the vaccination rates among younger siblings of children with autism. Some parents choose not to have their child vaccinated due to a perceived risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, this decision is particularly prevalent in parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder. The study tracked the development of infants in California who have a biological older sibling with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The findings of this study include no significant difference between rates of vaccination among children with and without autism (Glickman et al., 2017). Families with children who had autism spectrum disorder were less likely to vaccinate subsequent children. It also mentions that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder report higher rates of adverse reactions to vaccination than those who do not have an older child with autism. The article concludes its findings with a suggestion to study and have a better understanding of the relationship between adverse reactions to vaccines and autism spectrum disorder as there isn’t much information available on the topic. In terms of studying mental health, learning more about the adverse reactions of vaccines in children with autism may better explain the origins of autism rather than blaming vaccines overall based on one poorly done research study.
The news article by PBS accurately portrayed the information from the research that it referenced in ways that pertained to the topic of the article and supported its view. The article provided all the sources and references to the scientific research it used even though it did not directly include most of the key information from the studies. The studies were just mentioned as evidence, but none, if any key statistics can be found in the article itself. It gave more of a broad overview of the research that it references as a way to support its main topic. The research was clearly related to the topic at hand even though I believe the news article could have included more of the scientific evidence for those interested in that information without having to go back and forth between the various articles mentioned in the text. One issue I had with the research used in the article was how old one of the studies was. Since this article was published recently, I expected to see more recent scientific evidence than an article written over fifteen years ago.
The study on vaccinations and autism was very detailed and included quite a large sample size, which in most cases leads to more accurate results. The adjustment for various factors such as sex, socioeconomic status, and age can also be considered a strength when analyzing such a topic. On the other hand, the second research article used by the news article was not an original article, but a correspondence, it does not contain all the statistics that would be found in an original article. It is also less detailed and more condensed than the former research study and does not include information regarding the design and methodology of the study conducted.
From my perspective, with the current knowledge I have pertaining to child psychology, I believe that both the article and the research articles were well thought out and worked well together. As someone who is not a science major, I found the scientific articles simple to understand and review. The importance of an easy to read and navigate scientific article is crucial when it is included as a reference in a mainstream news article that people of all backgrounds are reading. With the many media articles currently floating on the internet with incorrect information on vaccines and autism it is important to be able to check that the information provided is correct and up to date, this article was able to do both. The research findings in both scientific articles both come to the same conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism and that incorrect information from two decades ago is still affecting the way that people view autism and its origins. The effect it has on parents is understandable since they are only interested in doing the best for their children, but they may be inadvertently hurting their children by not vaccinating them against many contagious and deadly illnesses.