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New Study May Be the Final Nail in the Coffin of the Autism vs. Vaccination Debate

The study has its fair share of skeptics, who believe the rise in autism, paired with the rise in vaccinations, is more than a coincidence.
May 20, 2014, 10:20pm
Photo via AP

A research team from the Sydney Medical School in Australia released a comprehensive analysis this week that concluded what many hope to be the final nail in the coffin of the autism vs. vaccination debate — that there is no link between the two.

The analysis, compiled by Guy Eslick, associate professor of surgery and cancer epidemiology at Sydney Medical School, and his team of researchers, looked at 10 international studies — five cohort studies involving more than 1.2-million children, and five case-control studies involving over 9,900 children.

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The team analyzed results that studied common vaccines used to treat things like diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus which contain the controversial mercury-based preservative thimerosal.

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The researchers also analyzed results that examined the MMR vaccine, a very popular and controversial medicine used to treat rubella, measles, and the mumps.

The results of Eslick’s analysis concluded that there is no relationship between autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s) and vaccinations.

“There has been enormous debate regarding the possibility of a link between these commonly-used and safe childhood vaccinations and the supposed development of autism,” Eslick said in the study. “The meta-analysis aims to quantitatively assess the available data from studies undertaken in various countries regarding autism rates and childhood vaccination so that the relationship between these two, whatever its significance, can be adequately substantiated.”

The study is the first of its kind, and although it appears irrefutable to some, it also has its fair share of skeptics, who believe the rise in autism, paired with the rise in vaccinations, is more than a simple coincidence.

One group, aptly named Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc., has a list of almost 70 medical journals on its website which “support the link between vaccination and autism.”

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Instances of diagnosed autism and other ASD's have skyrocketed over roughly the last decade or so.

Roughly one in every 68 children in the US has the disorder, and boys are five times more likely than girls to develop symptoms, according to the US Centers of Disease Control. From 2000 to 2014, the CDC reported the amount of children diagnosed with autism has more than doubled.

Denise Fulton, an administrative director of communications at the Autism Research Institute, told VICE News that while research like this is important, she doesn’t believe it should be the final word.

“One potential weakness of meta-analysis is the fact that regardless of the number of records reviewed, the absence of evidence is not necessarily proof a correlation doesn’t exist — particularly in cases where an individual may have an underlying medical susceptibility,” she said. “As one study author notes, side effects other than autism have been observed in relation to vaccines.”

Fulton, herself the parent of an autistic child, said she does not doubt the validity of the study outright, but noted the Autism Research Institute has, over the past several years, observed “increasing evidence of underlying medical co-morbidities” in autistic individuals.

Critics of vaccinations gained some traction early last year when the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, or “vaccine court,” awarded two otherwise normal children millions of dollars after they developed ASD’s following vaccinations.

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One of the most popular autism-vaccination theorists, Andrew Wakefield, was stripped of his credentials in the UK in 2010, after it was discovered that his prior research on the links between autism and vaccinations was ethically compromised and outright fraudulent.

But the CDC and researchers from the Institute of Medicine have also released extensive studies, which concur with Eslick’s conclusion.

The CDC released a report detailing the cases of deaths from vaccine preventable diseases. On the list was every disease whose vaccine Eslick analyzed, and the results are drastic.

Eslick said in the analysis that although he is an epidemiologist and trusts the presented data, he understands parents’ concerns and fears surrounding vaccinations, as he himself is the father of three daughters.

“My first two children have had febrile seizures after routine vaccinations, one of them a serious event,” he said. “As a parent, I know my children better than anyone, and I equate their seizures to the effects of the vaccination by increasing their body temperature.”

Eslick also notes in his research that the increase in parents deciding not to vaccinate their children against these once-common diseases creates a population hazard. The substantial decrease in population immunization greatly increases the risk of being affected by these age-old, once-thought-to-be-exterminated, diseases.

“Vaccine-preventable diseases clearly still hold a presence in modern day society, and the decision to opt out of vaccination schedules needed to be urgently and property evaluated,” he said.