Vaccines and autism is in the news again. Probably as a result of reports that more and more children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. So let’s take a look at the science.
On 28 March 2014, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that new data show that the estimated number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a disorder of neural development, usually appearing before the age of 3 years, characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior, continues to rise. The picture of ASD in US communities is changing.
CDC study– autism spectrum disorder rates
According to the study:
- About 1 in 68 children (or 14.7 per 1,000 8 year olds) were identified with ASD. This data was culled from studies on 8-year-old children living in 11 communities across the country. The data was gathered in this manner to get a detailed analysis of representative subsection of the USA, but it does not statistically represent the entire population of children in the United States.
- This new estimate is roughly 30% higher than the estimate for 2008 (1 in 88), roughly 60% higher than the estimate for 2006 (1 in 110), and roughly 120% higher than the estimates for 2002 and 2000 (1 in 150). We don’t know what is causing this increase.
In fact, the researchers carefully clarified the limitations of this study (probably to reduce panic):
In other words, some of it may be due to the way children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their local communities, but exactly how much is unknown. There is so much variance in the data, it is almost impossible to determine a strong correlation between the increased diagnosis and some causal, environmental factor.
Myths about vaccines and autism
Of course, there is a ridiculous belief that increased vaccinations and poorly designed vaccines, with thiomersal made out to be the lead villain, has led to the increased rates of ASD. This legend is based upon a retracted and fraudulent paper authored by Mr. Andy Wakefield who alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. If you want to read all about Wakefield’s despicable deceit, you can read it here, here, and here, a series of articles published in the British Medical Journal, a respected peer-reviewed publication.
Despite the fact that the CDC is unsure of why there is an increase (speculating on how we gather data rather than an environmental cause), despite the fact that Andy Wakefield lied, the antivaccination cult cannot help themselves in creating conspiracies or outlandish claims that vaccines cause autism.
One antivaccination lunatic, Ginger Taylor in her antiscientific website, “Adventures in Autism”, who appears to lack any formal education in science and has no critical thinking skills, cherry-picked 80 (give or take) studies that seem to support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. Except, of the 80, at least 20-25 do not make the conclusion that the author wants us to believe. Either the researchers are talking about a whole different topic, or the data was so weak that there’s barely a statistical difference in the autism and non-autism groups.
Ginger is pandering to her uneducated acolytes who don’t actually know how to read scientific articles. Lucky for humanity and the health of children who won’t have to suffer from vaccine preventable diseases, some of us know how to read and refute Ginger’s list of bogus studies.
What’s particularly laughable is that she uses numerous citations from Lucija Tomljenovic and Christopher Shaw, both of whom could be generously described as real shills for the antivaccination movement. Very well paid shills in fact. There articles are based on ludicrous science, published in terrible open access, and some cases, cursory (or even non-existent) peer-reviewed journals. If these two antivaccine shills actually had real data, why isn’t it published in top notch journals that relish the publicity of cutting-edge science. Like Lancet. Or New England Journal of Medicine. I guess if you have bogus data published in bad journals, you get what you get. Right Ginger Taylor?
The real science
By cherry picking a handful of poorly designed articles in poor journals, the antivaccine cult tends to find anything that supports their a priori conclusion that vaccines are horrific and they cause autism.
Proper scientifically skeptical thinking says that you review all evidence, giving weight to the quality and quantity of evidence that supports one conclusion or another. These vaccine deniers ignore the vast weight of evidence of real science published in real journals.
Real science shows that not only do we lack evidence that vaccines cause autism, we have affirmative evidence that vaccines do not cause autism.
For just one example, published in the journal Vaccine, is a meta-analysis of five cohort studies involving 1,256,407 children, and five case-control studies involving 9920 children. As I’ve written before, meta-analyses form the basis, the deep foundation, of the scientific consensus, and they are the highest quality scientific evidence available. This study is like a gigantic clinical trial because it rolls up the highest quality data from those millions of subjects to develop solid conclusions.
The authors concluded that,
This was a powerful, large, and well analyzed meta-review. This study takes all of the evidence and data that had been developed previously, and rolled it up into one huge cohort and clinical trial. And once again, we find that vaccines don’t cause autism.
Below is a list of over 120 peer reviewed articles, published in the best This isn’t a list of every article published over the past 20 years that rejects the hypothesis that vaccines or its ingredients are linked to autism. There are probably 1000 more than reject the belief that vaccines cause autism.
The myth that vaccines cause autism is dead dead dead.
However, I’m not a fool. The zombie vaccine myths continue to rise from the dead.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2014. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.
Here’s a list of over 110 peer-reviewed articles, published in high impact factor journals, that document the lack of correlation (and therefore causation) between vaccines and autism.
- Abu Kuwaik G, Roberts W, Zwaigenbaum L, Bryson S, Smith IM, Szatmari P, Modi BM, Tanel N, Brian J. Immunization uptake in younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2014 Feb;18(2):148-55. doi: 10.1177/1362361312459111. Epub 2012 Oct 8. PubMed PMID: 23045216.
- Albizzati A, Morè L, Di Candia D, Saccani M, Lenti C. Normal concentrations of heavy metals in autistic spectrum disorders. Minerva Pediatr. 2012 Feb;64(1):27-31. PubMed PMID: 22350041.
- Afzal MA, Ozoemena LC, O’Hare A, Kidger KA, Bentley ML, Minor PD. Absence of detectable measles virus genome sequence in blood of autistic children who have had their MMR vaccination during the routine childhood immunization schedule of UK. J Med Virol. 2006 May;78(5):623-30. PubMed PMID: 16555271.
- Ahearn WH. What Every Behavior Analyst Should Know About the “MMR Causes Autism” Hypothesis. Behav Anal Pract. 2010 Spring;3(1):46-50. PubMed PMID: 22479671; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3004684.
- Allan GM, Ivers N. The autism-vaccine story: fiction and deception? Can Fam Physician. 2010 Oct;56(10):1013. PubMed PMID: 20944043; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2954080.
- Andrews N, Miller E, Grant A, Stowe J, Osborne V, Taylor B. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):584-91. PubMed PMID: 15342825.
- Andrews N, Miller E, Taylor B, Lingam R, Simmons A, Stowe J, Waight P. Recall bias, MMR, and autism. Arch Dis Child. 2002 Dec;87(6):493-4. PubMed PMID: 12456546; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1755823.
- Baird G, Pickles A, Simonoff E, Charman T, Sullivan P, Chandler S, Loucas T, Meldrum D, Afzal M, Thomas B, Jin L, Brown D. Measles vaccination and antibody response in autism spectrum disorders. Arch Dis Child. 2008 Oct;93(10):832-7. doi: 10.1136/adc.2007.122937. Epub 2008 Feb 5. Erratum in: Arch Dis Child. 2008 Dec;93(12):1079. PubMed PMID: 18252754.
- Berger BE, Navar-Boggan AM, Omer SB. Congenital rubella syndrome and autism spectrum disorder prevented by rubella vaccination–United States, 2001-2010. BMC Public Health. 2011 May 19;11:340. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-340. PubMed PMID: 21592401; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3123590.
- Black C, Kaye JA, Jick H. Relation of childhood gastrointestinal disorders to autism: nested case-control study using data from the UK General Practice Research Database. BMJ. 2002 Aug 24;325(7361):419-21. PubMed PMID: 12193358; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC119436.
- Black SB, Cimino CO, Hansen J, Lewis E, Ray P, Corsaro B, Graepel J, Laufer D. Immunogenicity and safety of measles-mumps-rubella, varicella and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccines administered concurrently with a fourth dose of heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine compared with the vaccines administered without heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2006 Apr;25(4):306-11. PubMed PMID: 16567981.
- Bower H. New research demolishes link between MMR vaccine and autism. BMJ. 1999 Jun 19;318(7199):1643. PubMed PMID: 10373156; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1116011.
- Chen W, Landau S, Sham P, Fombonne E. No evidence for links between autism, MMR and measles virus. Psychol Med. 2004 Apr;34(3):543-53. PubMed PMID: 15259839.
- Christie B. Scottish expert group finds no link between MMR and autism. BMJ. 2002 May 11;324(7346):1118. PubMed PMID: 12008724; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1172158.
- Clements CJ, McIntyre PB. When science is not enough – a risk/benefit profile of thiomersal-containing vaccines. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2006 Jan;5(1):17-29. Review. PubMed PMID: 16370953.
- Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines, Institute of Medicine; Stratton K, Ford A, Rusch E, Clayton EW, editors. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011 Aug 25.PubMed PMID: 24624471.
- Dales L, Hammer SJ, Smith NJ. Time trends in autism and in MMR immunization coverage in California. JAMA. 2001 Mar 7;285(9):1183-5. PubMed PMID: 11231748.
- de Los Reyes EC. Autism and immunizations: separating fact from fiction. Arch Neurol. 2010 Apr;67(4):490-2. doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2010.57. PubMed PMID: 20385917.
- DeWilde S, Carey IM, Richards N, Hilton SR, Cook DG. Do children who become autistic consult more often after MMR vaccination? Br J Gen Pract. 2001 Mar;51(464):226-7. PubMed PMID: 11255906; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1313956.
- Demicheli V, Rivetti A, Debalini MG, Di Pietrantonj C. Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2:CD004407. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3. Review. PubMed PMID: 22336803.
- DeStefano F, Bhasin TK, Thompson WW, Yeargin-Allsopp M, Boyle C. Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan atlanta. Pediatrics. 2004 Feb;113(2):259-66. PubMed PMID: 14754936.
- DeStefano F. Vaccines and autism: evidence does not support a causal association. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Dec;82(6):756-9. Epub 2007 Oct 10. Review. PubMed PMID: 17928818.
- DeStefano F. MMR vaccine and autism: a review of the evidence for a causal association. Mol Psychiatry. 2002;7 Suppl 2:S51-2. Review. PubMed PMID: 12142951.
- DeStefano F, Chen RT. Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: No epidemiological evidence for a causal association. J Pediatr. 2000 Jan;136(1):125-6. PubMed PMID: 10681219.
- DeStefano F, Price CS, Weintraub ES. Increasing exposure to antibody-stimulating proteins and polysaccharides in vaccines is not associated with risk of autism. J Pediatr. 2013 Aug;163(2):561-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.02.001. Epub 2013 Mar 30. PubMed PMID: 23545349.
- DeStefano F, Thompson WW. MMR vaccine and autism: an update of the scientific evidence. Expert Rev Vaccines. 2004 Feb;3(1):19-22. Review. PubMed PMID: 14761240.
- DeStefano F, Thompson WW. MMR vaccination and autism: is there a link? Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2002 Jul;1(2):115-20. Review. PubMed PMID: 12904145.
- DeStefano F, Chen RT. Negative association between MMR and autism. Lancet. 1999 Jun 12;353(9169):1987-8. PubMed PMID: 10376608.
- DeStefano F, Chen RT. Autism and measles-mumps-rubella vaccination: controversy laid to rest? CNS Drugs. 2001;15(11):831-7. Review. PubMed PMID: 11700148.
- D’Souza J, Todd T. Measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and the development of autism or inflammatory bowel disease: the controversy should end. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Jul;8(3):187-99. doi: 10.5863/1551-6776-8.3.187. PubMed PMID: 23118678; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3469143.
- D’Souza Y, Fombonne E, Ward BJ. No evidence of persisting measles virus in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from children with autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics. 2006 Oct;118(4):1664-75. Erratum in: Pediatrics. 2006 Dec;118(6):2608. PubMed PMID: 17015560.
- Doja A, Roberts W. Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature. Can J Neurol Sci. 2006 Nov;33(4):341-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 17168158.
- Elliman D, Bedford H. MMR: where are we now? Arch Dis Child. 2007 Dec;92(12):1055-7. Epub 2007 Jul 11. Review. PubMed PMID: 17626143; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2066086.
- Farrington CP, Miller E, Taylor B. MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association. Vaccine. 2001 Jun 14;19(27):3632-5. PubMed PMID: 11395196.
- Fitzpatrick M. The end of the road for the campaign against MMR. Br J Gen Pract. 2007 Aug;57(541):679. PubMed PMID: 17688775; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2099687.
- Fombonne E, Chakrabarti S. No evidence for a new variant of measles-mumps-rubella-induced autism. Pediatrics. 2001 Oct;108(4):E58. PubMed PMID: 11581466.
- Fombonne E, Zakarian R, Bennett A, Meng L, McLean-Heywood D. Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations. Pediatrics. 2006 Jul;118(1):e139-50. PubMed PMID: 16818529.
- Gadad BS, Lia W, Yazdani U, Grady S, Johnson T, Hammond J, Gunn G, Curtis B, English C, Yutuc V, Ferrier C, Sackett GP, Marti N, Young K, Lewiston L, German DC. Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology. PNAS; Sept 2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500968112.
- García-Fernández L, Hernández AV, Suárez Moreno V, Fiestas F. [Addressing the controversy regarding the association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism]. Rev Peru Med Exp Salud Publica. 2013 Apr;30(2):268-74. Spanish. PubMed PMID: 23949514.
- Gentile I, Bravaccio C, Bonavolta R, Zappulo E, Scarica S, Riccio MP, Settimi A, Portella G, Pascotto A, Borgia G. Response to measles-mumps-rubella vaccine in children with autism spectrum disorders. In Vivo. 2013 May-Jun;27(3):377-82. PubMed PMID: 23606694.
- Gerber JS, Offit PA. Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypotheses. Clin Infect Dis. 2009 Feb 15;48(4):456-61. doi: 10.1086/596476. Review. PubMed PMID: 19128068; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2908388.
- Glasper EA. New evidence reaffirms the safety of the MMR vaccine. Br J Nurs. 2002 Jun 27-Jul 10;11(12):794. PubMed PMID: 12131827.
- Goin-Kochel RP, Mire SS, Dempsey AG, Fein RH, Guffey D, Minard CG, Cunningham RM, Sahni LC, Boom JA. Parental report of vaccine receipt in children with autism spectrum disorder: Do rates differ by pattern of ASD onset? Vaccine. 2016 Mar 8;34(11):1335-42. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.02.008. Epub 2016 Feb 8. PubMed PMID: 26868082.
- Halsey NA, Hyman SL; Conference Writing Panel. Measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autistic spectrum disorder: report from the New Challenges in Childhood Immunizations Conference convened in Oak Brook, Illinois, June 12-13, 2000. Pediatrics. 2001 May;107(5):E84. Review. PubMed PMID: 11331734.
- Hayney MS. Vaccine safety: no link between thimerosal and autism. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2004 Nov-Dec;44(6):725-6. PubMed PMID: 15637857.
- Hertz-Picciotto I, Green PG, Delwiche L, Hansen R, Walker C, Pessah IN. Blood mercury concentrations in CHARGE Study children with and without autism. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jan;118(1):161-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0900736. PubMed PMID: 20056569; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2831962.
- Hensley E, Briars L. Closer look at autism and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2010 Nov-Dec;50(6):736-41. doi: 10.1331/JAPhA.2010.10004. Review. PubMed PMID: 21071320.
- Heron J, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):577-83. PubMed PMID: 15342824.
- Hessel L. [Mercury in vaccines]. Bull Acad Natl Med. 2003;187(8):1501-10. Review. French. PubMed PMID: 15146581.
- Honda H, Shimizu Y, Rutter M. No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;46(6):572-9. PubMed PMID: 15877763.
- Hornig M, Briese T, Buie T, Bauman ML, Lauwers G, Siemetzki U, Hummel K, Rota PA, Bellini WJ, O’Leary JJ, Sheils O, Alden E, Pickering L, Lipkin WI. Lack of association between measles virus vaccine and autism with enteropathy: a case-control study. PLoS One. 2008 Sep 4;3(9):e3140. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003140. PubMed PMID: 18769550; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2526159.
- Hurley AM, Tadrous M, Miller ES. Thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism: a review of recent epidemiologic studies. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2010 Jul;15(3):173-81. PubMed PMID: 22477809; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3018252.
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- Institute of Medicine (US) Immunization Safety Review Committee. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004.PubMed PMID: 20669467.
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Note: In almost every case in the list above, I’ve linked to the PubMed abstract, which often has limited information and lacks detailed analyses of methods, statistics and results. It is always preferred that you read the full article, but many of these publications sit behind expensive paywalls (I hate paywalls, they limit free access of scientific data). Students, especially in scientific fields and most academic physicians have access to the full article through their schools journal search engine. I have personal access to many, if not most, of the actual articles, and have read it in detail.
PubMed occasionally links to a “free” full version of the article. It can be found on buttons on the top right of the PubMed page, which say “Free Full Text” or something similar. These links may direct you to the actual journal, who graciously makes some articles free for the public, or to PubMed Central, a US National Institutes of Health library of full text medical and biological articles (although you can find the occasional article in other areas of science). I do not link, usually, to the free version of an article because it changes all the time, so I have found it better to go to PubMed. If there is a PubMed Central version of the article, you will see “PubMed Central PMCID:” in the standardized citation (which I always use for scientific journal articles). Using the PMC number, you can search for it through Google or the PMC website.
Also, many thanks to the brilliant folks at a pro-vaccine Facebook Page who put many hours into creating this list. I can’t link to the group or the individuals publicly, but they know who they are, and they made this blog post relatively easy. I’ve adapted the list to the scientific citation style that I prefer to use, and added a few additional articles that support the scientific consensus.