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Published: Monday, 4/14/2008

Research fails to link autism to vaccinations

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jacob Tanner, left, of Maumee and his sister Marissa play a video game while their family watches. Jacob, 16, was 18 months old when he first showed signs of autism.  
Jacob Tanner, left, of Maumee and his sister Marissa play a video game while their family watches. Jacob, 16, was 18 months old when he first showed signs of autism.
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Vicki Tanner isn t saying childhood vaccines don t cause autism.

But the Maumee mother of three, including a 16-year-old boy with a mild form of autism for which there is no proven cause, doesn t believe there is a link between them after looking over studies on the subject.

I do look at things more like, Give me the proof, said Mrs. Tanner, who works as a substitute teacher and who was educated as a science teacher.

I don t see the scientific proof that the vaccines cause autism. I do believe it is something environmental, she added. I would still get them for my kids.

Debated for years, allegations about the link between autism and vaccines especially the measles, mumps, and rubella combination shot and mercury-containing thimerosal removed from most vaccines years ago has reignited passions on both sides nationally in recent weeks. An increasingly common brain disorder that interferes with how people understand, communicate, and interact socially, autism cases can range from severe to mild.

At root of the latest divide is 9-year-old Hannah Poling, a Georgia girl with a rare, pre-existing medical disorder that government health officials last month conceded worsened after receiving vaccines, ultimately leading to autism-like symptoms. She is to be paid from a federal vaccine-injury fund, but government officials continue to say vaccines do not cause autism.

Jacob Tanner, here with his parents Vicki and Jim, is involved in football and is close to becoming an Eagle Scout. Mrs. Tanner says she wants to see proof that vaccines cause autism. Jacob Tanner, here with his parents Vicki and Jim, is involved in football and is close to becoming an Eagle Scout. Mrs. Tanner says she wants to see proof that vaccines cause autism.
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Some parents of autistic children are skeptical and think the government s concession concerning Hannah confirms their belief in a link. Some other parents of autistic children believe no connection exists and are concerned the case will prompt families to stop getting vaccines, leaving youngsters vulnerable to serious and even life-threatening illnesses.

Linell Weinberg, executive director of the Autism Society of Northwest Ohio, said she has heard impassioned cries from both sides in recent weeks. The society advises parents to discuss any concerns with their doctors, she said.

Some local doctors said they have gotten more questions lately about vaccines and their timing, which they gladly field and hopefully clear up. Dr. R.W. Mills, medical director at St. Vincent Mercy Children s Hospital, said there not only is no scientific proof of a link between vaccines and autism, but the shots have virtually eradicated many illnesses and continually are improved.

This is clearly the single biggest advancement in the healthcare of children in the last century, said Dr. Mills, a pediatrician.

Toledoan Lisa Tipler said she has heard claims there is a link between autism and vaccines, but she wants to keep her 3-year-old protected from infectious diseases.

It doesn t deter me, said the mother of Icyss, who does not have autism and soon will need another round of vaccines.

The incidence of autism has increased in the last quarter century, from 1 in 10,000 children to 1 in 150, some local medical experts said.

A combination of circumstances may contribute to that rise, including earlier and better diagnostic screening, as well as genetic and environmental factors, they said.

Jacob Tanner of Maumee was 18 months old when he started showing signs of autism, a common time for the disorder s onset and about when the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine is administered to children. Medical science says that is a coincidence, not a link.

There s so much going on at that time involving their development, said Mrs. Tanner, Jacob s mother.

Speech therapy since age 3 and ongoing efforts by his sisters and parents are among factors that have helped Jacob improve. He is involved in football, and he is close to becoming an Eagle Scout, Mrs. Tanner said.

He really is doing very well, Mrs. Tanner said. I m so proud with the progress. It is the whole village thing.

Nationwide, though, more than 4,800 families are seeking federal compensation for autism or other developmental disabilities, which they claim was caused by vaccines.

Next month, the Health Resources and Services Administration will present its views on whether vaccines cause autism during proceedings in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims so-called vaccine court.

Unfortunately, it s a disorder that we just don t understand very well, and there s so much frustration, said Dr. David Krol, chairman of the pediatrics department at the University of Toledo College of Medicine, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.

It s a real struggle, obviously, for parents, and definitely for providers as well, Dr. Krol added.

As physicians, we like to have the answer to things, and this is something we don t have the answer to yet.

Pediatricians and family doctors are focusing more on recognizing autism, including listening to parents who have concerns about their toddlers development, said Dr. Sean Rae, a Sylvania pediatrician and internist.

At 18 months old, children should be able to point to an object in the room, as well as participate in imaginative play like pretending to be a race car, Dr. Rae said.

In the case of the Georgia girl with autism getting money from the federal vaccine fund, meanwhile, a fever like what some children get after a vaccine likely caused her pre-existing condition to worsen, Dr. Rae said. Any fever could have had the same result, prompting symptoms of autism, he said.

Doctors, meanwhile, do need to be selective when giving vaccines to children who have other medical conditions, said Dr. Mills of Mercy Children s.

There are certain patients you have to be careful with, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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