Autism, Vaccines and the Trump Administration

“So what’s going on with autism? When you look at the tremendous increase, it’s really – it’s such an incredible – it’s really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase…”  (February 14, 2017, reported in the Washington Post)

“When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor,” Trump said. “And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic. Everybody has their theory. My theory, and I study it because I have young children, my theory is the shots. We’ve giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.”  (Dec 28, 2007 reported in the Sun Sentinel of South Florida).

These, like so many statements from Mr. Trump, leave one with a gaping mouth and not much idea of where to start.  And they, now coming from a man in a position of real power and influence, rise to the level of dangerous.  They imperil public health and the work of researchers, physicians and mental health practitioners alike.

I, as a former microbiologist, have great respect for those who intelligently question things like the advisability of vaccinating young children.  Live polio vaccine can very occasionally cause a case of polio.  Measles virus vaccine (not Rubella) can cause neurological damage later in life.  These things are rare, indeed, but deserve serious attention.  The association of autism with the MMR vaccine seems to have been well examined with no linking evidence:

“Currently, the weight of the available epidemiological and related evidence does not support a causal association between MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine or vaccine constituent, and autism”(DeStefano & Chen, CNS Drugs, 2001:15(11) 831-7)

Numerous other papers come to the same conclusion. (see, for example, the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Journal of Public Health).

The culprit identified by people who were concerned about the MMR vaccine-autism link was the preservative that was added to the vaccine, a mercury-containing compound called Thimerosal.  It was certainly a good idea to look at the long-term effects of injecting such a compound into small children, and I can understand people being skeptical when researchers and the FDA state that Thimerosal is not toxic and is cleared from the body quickly (as stated, for example, in a recent CDC article).  However, as a precaution in 1999 Thimerosal was removed from the MMR vaccine.  In the US there is only one Influenza vaccine that contains the compound (CDC, February, 2015).

Back to Mr. Trump — and my message for him:

  1. There are no data to suggest a link between vaccinations and autism.
  2. The issue that concerned people had nothing to do with giving kids grouped vaccines, but had to do with a preservative that is no longer used (discontinuation of which has had no discernible effect on autism rates).
  3. We do not give “massive injections.”  The standard MMR injection is 0.5 ml — or half a cc of liquid.

My belief is that these rantings are a distraction from real work on Autism Spectrum Disorder.  My fear is that an ignorant man in this position could use his power and influence to divert energy and funds from real, necessary research into the cause and treatment of ASD.

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