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HEALTHY REASONING: The Connection Between Autism And The Measles Vaccine

HEALTHY REASONING: The Connection Between Autism And The Measles Vaccine

By Allan Bucka Jones
Pride Health Columnist

Last Friday, Toronto Public Health said the city now has six laboratory-confirmed cases of measles. They do not appear to be linked, indicating that the measles is “currently circulating” in Toronto.

With this outbreak of measles in Toronto, and the ensuing debate over whether the measles vaccine can cause autism, it is a good time to recall a May 2008 report in the reputable medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine. They reported on a girl named Hannah Poling living in the United States. When she was 19 months old, Hannah, the daughter of Jon and Terry Poling, received five vaccines including measles–mumps–rubella (MMR). When she received the vaccines, Hannah was interactive, playful, and communicative. Two days later, she was lethargic, irritable, and febrile. Ten days after vaccination, she developed a rash consistent with vaccine-induced varicella.

Months later, the child was diagnosed with behaviours matching autism or autism spectrum disorder. Hannah’s parents believed that vaccines had triggered her problems. They sued the US Department of Health and Human Services for compensation under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and won.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responded to the claims that vaccines had caused the child’s autism, by stating that the US had made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism. The biggest challenge was defining the term “autism.” Autism is a clinical diagnosis and children are labeled as autistic on the basis of a collection of clinical features. Also, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program’s concession to Hannah Poling was poorly reasoned. Plus the child had other medical challenges that were not related to vaccines. And so the disagreement continued, to vaccinate or not vaccinate.

The cause of autism is not known, however a better understanding of the disorder has led to the development of better coping mechanisms and strategies for the various manifestations of the disability. Boys are four times more likely than girls to develop autism. There is continuing controversy surrounding the claim that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), contributes to the development of autism spectrum disorders in children. This claim was based on the 1998 publication of a fraudulent research paper in a medical journal. Investigations revealed that the researcher who published the claims, had multiple undeclared conflicts of interest and manipulated the evidence. The research paper was retracted in 2010, and the author no longer practice as a doctor. However the controversy continues, and many are still sceptical of having the MMR vaccine administered to their children, fearing their child will develop autism spectrum disorder.

As Toronto’s measles outbreak continues to grow, a new survey reveals that one in five individuals still believe that the measles vaccine cause autism. On the other hand, 66% of those surveyed, say unvaccinated children should be barred from child-care facilities. Meanwhile, an Ottawa based daycare facility is pursuing a vaccine free environment. The debate continues on whether to take or not take the measles vaccine.

Under Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act, students are required to provide vaccination records to attend school. Without proof of vaccination, they can be suspended from school unless they submit an exemption form. Parents can complete a Statement of Conscience or Religious Belief exemption form, have it signed by a commissioner of oaths and submit it to the school or Toronto Public Health. Parents do not have to explain why they are requesting the exemption. For a Statement of Medical Exemption form, parents need to have the form signed by a medical doctor, a nurse or a nurse practitioner.

If you are still unsure whether you should take the measles vaccine, please talk to your family doctor very soon. 

Allan Bucka Jones is a Health Promoter and Broadcaster. He can be heard on “Allan Bucka Jones LIVE”, Sundays from 3 to 5pm on CHRY 105.5 FM, CHRY RADIO App, www.chry.fm option RDO.to, Rogers Digital Cable 945, Bell Fibe 973 or mobile app TuneIn Radio. You can contact Allan Bucka Jones at allan@jonesandjones.ca.

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