Vaccines and Autism

After our last posting about “The Oprah Winfrey Show” there was some debate about Jenny McCarthy’s beliefs about autism as discussed on the talk show. Jenny McCarthy’s says that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may cause autism in children.

In February, 2009 a special US federal court ruled in the case of three children that vaccines did not cause their autism; their families were claiming that the MMR vaccine, which contained the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, had caused their children to develop autism and several other conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease.

According to the Associated Press (AP), more than 5,500 claims have been filed by families hoping to get compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and this ruling comes as a blow to them and thousands of others who believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism.

The claims are filed with the “people’s court,” the US Court of Claims in Washington. This court is different to many others in that the claimants don’t have to prove that the vaccines caused the autism, just that they probably did.

But Special Master George Hastings Jr, whose ruling in the case of one of the children, Michelle Cedillo of Yuma, Arizona, extended to 183 pages, said:”Unfortunately, the Cedillos have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment.”

He said he had to decide the case by analyzing the evidence and not on sentiment. The Cedillos had claimed that a measles vaccine given to Michelle when she was 15 months old had triggered her autism, inflammatory bowel disease, and other disorders that have left her considerably disabled.

“If thimerosal in vaccines were causing autism, we’d expect that diagnoses of autism would decrease dramatically after the chemical was removed from vaccines,” says Eric Fombonne, MD, director of the psychiatry division at Montreal Children’s Hospital and a member of the National Institutes of Health advisory board for autism research programs.

But a large study published in Archives of General Psychiatry found that cases of autism continued to increase in California long after 2001, when thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines in the U.S. (it’s still found in some flu shots).

“Not only did cases not decrease — but they continued to rise,” says Fombonne. “That tells us that something else must be responsible for rising rates of autism in this country.”

This study is the latest in a series of many others, in other countries and populations, which drew similar conclusions. “Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in Canada in 1996 and in Denmark in 1992,” says Dr. Fombonne. “Autism is still on the rise in those countries as well.”

And in 2004, both the World Health Organization and Institute of Medicine each concluded no link between autism rates and thimerosal exposure after examining the health records of hundreds of thousands of children.

But, consumer groups who support the view that the vaccines caused autism are not deterred by the ruling and continue to assert their case. Head of the National Vaccine Information Center, Barbara Loe Fischer said she thought it was a mistake to think that because these three families have not won their claim it has been decided that vaccines don’t play a role in the development of autism.

SafeMinds, an autism advocacy organization, issued a statement following the court ruling. They said the ruling was based on “inadequate vaccine safety science available to the court” and said there was a conflict of interest in that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is both the “defendant in court” and also responsible for carrying out the vaccine safety research. They said this conflict of interest was sufficient to cast doubt on the “integrity of the National Immunization Program“.

Director of SafeMinds and an advisor to the Petitioners Steering Committee of the US Federal Court of Claims, Jim Moody, said: “The government has its thumb on the scales of justice.”

Executive director of SafeMinds, Sallie Bernard, said: “A neutral agency must initiate an extensive safety program, including studies of the health outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.””Otherwise, trust in immunization will continue to deteriorate,” she added.

Have you cared for children with autism while working as a nanny or au pair?


  1. Thank you for that posting. I am a nanny for twins with autism and they did not get it after the MMR shot. They both had signs of a delay before they were even a year old!!Michelle W.

  2. Autism is a very emotional topic for parents. As nannies we must tread lightly with parents. I worked for a mother that was in complete and utter denial. She would get so angry at preschool teachers and friends. I personally waited so long to bring up the topic and worded it so carefully and she attacked me. She told the pedicatrician she would take her child to the specialists (speech therapist, child psychologist) just to start the process rolling. But she wouldn't take her child. Serious case of child neglect in my opinion!So the one thing for sure is that parents are emotional because it is their child. Every parent wants the best for their child so it can be devastating.Whether it is vaccines or pesticides, steroids in milk, diet, biological, parents must try every possible thing they can to help their child. So we just can't criticize them for hoping and trying anything and everything. At least they try.I feel the worse thing a parent can do is be in denial. The mother I worked for wasted precious YEARS claiming her child was a "late bloomer." Many precious years. Franklin Lakes NJ

  3. The clinical tests just have not been performed. If I were a parent I would be worried too.

  4. I found caring for an autistic girl so rewarding. I think most women interviewed for the position to care for the girl were intimidated because she was blind, used a feeding tube to eat and doesn't communicate much at all. It was a really great experience. The parents are so loving and she was a gentle nice person to care for.Katie, Providence RI

  5. It is interesting for parents to keep current on all ideas about autism. But, the benefits of being vaccinated greatly outweigh the risks. But, are there any studies or stories of children contracting measles or mumps because they did not get the vaccine in America?

  6. The parents are desperately just looking for something or someone to blame. 5,500 claims made proves they are desperate?! I am not saying it is the parents fault that their children are autistic. But, neither is diet or vaccines likely the cause. If the child is allergic to the diet or vaccine than symptoms may appear, but true autism is not cured by diet or prevented by not having a vaccine.Nanny Meredith, Med Student, Houston TX

  7. Wow! I am always so surprised at the misinformation about vaccines and autism. The mercury in vaccines is a separate issue from the MMR. Just because the timing of the MMR did not match with the autism regression does not mean that the other vaccines that contained mercury prior to the MMR did not contribute to autism. The MMR is a different issue from the mercury, though not without its own problems. For those who are interested read Evidence of Harm. It will be a hard read for many, as it was for my own husband who has been a board certified M.D. for many years. Another excellent book is the Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears. R G Louisiana

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