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The vaccine debate rages on

March 4, 2010

A study published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics found that despite a lack of evidence to support the theory that some vaccinations cause autism, one in almost five parents still believe that to be the case.  Interestingly, these findings come directly on the heels of The Lancet’s decision to retract a flawed study that attempted to link the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination (MMR) to autism.

So, even though there is no proven scientific link, why are so many parents still skittish about getting their children vaccinated?

“It’s a logical fallacy,” says Stephen Aronoff, chair of pediatrics at Temple University.  “The live MMR vaccination is given at around 12-15 months.  Coincidentally, this is also around the time that symptoms of autism begin to present themselves.  Given the prevalence of autism, people look at that and assume that must be what’s causing it.”

When Aronoff talks to parents about getting their child vaccinated, he says he’s upfront about the risks – usually minimal in an otherwise healthy child.

“There is usually some localized pain or redness, and we might see some sort of infection, but that is rare,” he says.  “There’s no substantiated data that supports any neurological damage.”

He adds that in general, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risk.  “There’s actually an outbreak of mumps in the US right now, from a lack of people getting vaccinated.  That’s not something we even think about, because vaccines have made it so rare.”

Ultimately, Aronoff says the true crux of the debate is determining causality.

“Many people think, ‘My child was perfectly healthy until he or she got the vaccine,’ so they interpret that to be the cause.”

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