Autism is a neurological disorder in which a child suffers from severe communication problems and impaired social skills. The number of cases has increased significantly in the past 20 years and the medical community has devoted resources to finding out its cause. Autism was not considered prevalent before the 1990s, but cases have increased dramatically according to the Centers for Disease Control. They noted that 300,000 children ages 4 to 17 had autism in 2004, and as many as 1.5 million people in the United States currently have autism. Boys are nearly four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
In the US, children are inoculated against diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) at an early age. These vaccinations helped to effectively eradicate problems that had previously ravaged children in these same early years. Coincidentally, these early years are the same time that the condition of autism begins to make its insidious presence known.
A British paper published about 10 years ago seemingly made the claim that receipt of the MMR vaccine was associated with autism. This initial report of a possible relationship between the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism received significant attention, and in England, MMR immunization rates dropped and the number of measles cases rose dramatically over the next decade (RedOrbit).
Presidential candidate John McCain fueled the fires of the debate as to whether vaccines cause autism by stating “that ‘there’s strong evidence’ that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S.” (Joyner).
Parents whose children suffered from autism naturally research all they can in an effort to understand the disease. When the paper noted immediately above was read here in the US, it started a firestorm. Could it be that our own efforts to prevent MMR instead bred the onslaught of autism in our children? Had the parents of those afflicted uncovered an answer as to what caused the problems with their children?
Understandably, the parents of a child with autism will seek a concrete, precipitating reason or event that can be identified as the definitive start of the condition. But even the Autism Society, a comprehensive organization that annually sponsors a national conference with over 2,000 attendees, noted on its web site that there is no known single cause for autism (Autism Society).
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have the responsibility to look into matters such as this. The two organizations performed exhaustive research into the vaccines that were administered and literature that was relevant to the disease. In the end both determined that there was no causal relationship between the administration of the MMR vaccines and autism. An interesting side-fact of this matter was that the writers of the paper that had caused the outcry asked to retract their original “findings.” But the damage had already been done; parents (at least in the US) were now on to something and weren’t going to let this go.
In 1986, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) issues the “Vaccine Act,” requiring that children are inoculated against certain childhood diseases. When a child elicited autism symptoms, her parent brought suit against the HHS, claiming the Act was the cause of their daughter’s problem. In a court case filed on August 6, 2009, the parents of an autistic child sued for monetary relief because they believed that the ethyl mercury in thimerosal and the MMR vaccine damaged their daughter’s immune system. They felt that this made her unable to clear from her body the measles virus contained in the MMR vaccine and that it reproduced itself in their daughter’s body, causing her to suffer inflammatory bowel disease. The family also felt the measles virus ultimately entered Michelle’s brain, causing inflammation and autism.
The case was reviewed and it was eventually determined that “After careful consideration of all of the evidence, it was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive. Respondent’s experts were far more qualified, better supported by the weight of scientific research and authority, and simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention” (Erickson)………………………………………………………………………