Comprehensive research best hope for understanding autism By Dr. Gail Gray
Special Assistant to the Secretary, South Dakota Department of Health Every day parents make important decisions about their childrenâ�?�?s health. The conflicting information available in todayâ�?�?s internet world can make those decisions difficult. Sorting out whatâ�?�?s accurate and whatâ�?�?s not is especially challenging with emotionally charged issues like whether thereâ�?�?s a link between childhood vaccines and autism. Autism is a devastating illness that is often diagnosed shortly after a childâ�?�?s first birthday. Several vaccines are also recommended for children at this same age, leading some to speculate that vaccines may cause autism. Thimerosal, a mercury based preservative once used in childhood vaccines, has been a particular concern. In response to this concern, since 2001 all vaccines routinely recommended for children younger than 6 in the United States have been produced without the preservative. The only exception is inactivated influenza vaccine, but there is a thimerosal-free alternative available. Yet despite the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines, autism rates are continuing to increase. Comprehensive research is our best hope for understanding the real causes of autism and other developmental disorders and that research is underway. Medical scientists in many countries, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are working hard to understand the frequency and trends of autism, research potential risk factors and causes, and improve early diagnosis so affected children receive care as soon as possible. Based on the studies that have been done, the preponderance of evidence shows no link between vaccines and autism. We are fortunate in the United States that the number of cases of most vaccine-preventable diseases is at an all-time low, and hospitalizations and deaths have shown amazing decreases due to vaccination. Smallpox is gone from the globe.�? Polio, measles, diphtheria and rubella viruses no longer circulate in the U.S. population due to high immunity from vaccination. However, cases can and do still occur, since in other parts of the world, these diseases are still circulatingâ�?�?making them only a plane ride away. And if vaccination rates decline, there could be a resurgence of these diseases. Thus, we must remain vigilant, keeping childhood vaccination rates high to prevent the return or resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Parents with questions about vaccine safety should talk with their childâ�?�?s physician. They can also find a find a wealth of credible information on the web sites of the American Academy of Pediatrics, www.cispimmunize.org/fam/fam_main.html, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/faq_vaccines.htm. Parents have no more important responsibility than their childrenâ�?�?s health and well being and they deserve accurate, science-based information to make those decisions.
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