Prenatal Tdap vaccine does not increase risk of autism in children

We have affirmative and robust evidence that vaccines are not linked to autism, but the moving goalposts of the anti-vaccine religion always provide us with some new scare tactic about vaccines and autism. But now we have some new powerful evidence that prenatal Tdap vaccine is not linked to autism.

The Tdap vaccine, which protects children and adults against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (or whooping cough), is the older child (>7 years old) and adult version, while the DTaP vaccine is the children’s version. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (pdf) strongly encourage expectant mothers to receive a prenatal Tdap vaccine in the third trimester to protect newborn babies.

The CDC recommends the first DTaP vaccine for babies at 2 months, but they are not fully protected until they receive their second dose at 4 months or third dose at 6 months. In the meantime, mothers could contract whooping cough, a bacterial infection that is extremely dangerous to infants and adults, that they pass to their newborn. The vaccine can stop that risk.

Let’s take a look at the new study that shows us, once again, that vaccines, even in an expectant mother, are not related to autism. And the prenatal Tdap vaccine protects the newborn, an important benefit.

The prenatal Tdap vaccine study

A new retrospective cohort study, published in Pediatrics by a research group at Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC), found no association between the prenatal Tdap vaccine and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The researchers observed the outcome of an ASD diagnosis in children born at all KPSC hospitals between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2014.

Because Kaiser Permanente is a vertically integrated health care system, it makes it easy for epidemiologists to examine medical records for things like vaccination status without relying upon patient memory. It also allows the researchers to track patients, such as infants, over time.

The study included nearly 82,000 children born during this time. Prenatal Tdap vaccine uptake ranged from 26% in the 2012 birth cohort to 79% for the 2014 cohort. The substantial increase probably resulted from a much higher awareness of pertussis outbreaks along with recommendations from respected groups mentioned above.

The researchers found that 569 children (or 1.5%) whose mothers received a prenatal Tdap vaccine were later diagnosed with autism. On the other hand, 772 children (or 1.8%) whose mothers did not receive the vaccine were diagnosed with ASD. In other words, there was a slightly lower (not statistically significant) risk of autism for mothers who received the prenatal Tdap vaccine than those that did not.

The researchers concluded:

Our findings suggest that getting vaccinated with Tdap during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of ASD in children. Future studies with additional birth years and longer follow-up can add to the scientific evidence about Tdap vaccination during pregnancy and ASD in offspring. We provide evidence supporting the ACIP’s recommendation to vaccinate pregnant women to protect vulnerable infants, who are at highest risk of hospitalization and death after pertussis infection.

We know that vaccines have become controversial when the cunning fraud, Andrew Wakefield, published his fraudulent, and ultimately retracted, study that falsely claimed a connection between the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and ASD. Although Wakefield’s research has been thoroughly and repeatedly discredited by hundreds of peer-reviewed articles. Unfortunately, as a result of his own self-promotion, such as the fraudumentary Vaxxed, and misinformation from the anti-vaccine crowd, parents are frequently triggered by the worry that the vaccines cause autism. And this has led to lower vaccine uptake in some areas.

But, as I’ve kept saying over and over – there really isn’t any real evidence that indicates that vaccines are anything but very safe and very effective. And they don’t cause autism.

The highly recommended prenatal Tdap vaccine is not linked to autism in a robust study. Expectant mothers should protect themselves and their newborns from dangerous diseases, like whooping cough, by getting the vaccine.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!