Ask AJ #6: Shots

by humanmama on September 1, 2011

This question has been asked multiple times by multiple people, especially when they find out I came to Pittsburgh to work with Autistic children.

Rebecca of Lansing, Michigan says:

“AJ, what are your opinions about immunizations?”

Working with autistic children gave me many, many skills that can be used in parenting (and also in everyday life). Patience, a sense of incremental progress, and glimpse of what it’s like to live with serious sensory issues. But it also gave me a lot of insight into immunizations.

There are 11 (eleven) vaccinations listed by the American Association of Pediatrics and backed by the CDC. The very first issue of concern to parents is that several of these eleven vaccines are made up of two or three or more different immunizations. For example, the DTaP is one of the listed eleven, but that is made up of three vaccines (to prevent Diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, and acellular pertussis). This issue in itself worries parents: can I be overloading my baby’s (and/or toddler’s) body and immune system with too many ingredients? Because, as you know, vaccines are mostly weakened or dead toxins or bacteria–something that sounds pretty scary to give to a newborn or very young baby or toddler.

The second issue I’ve heard is related: are the vaccines themselves actually toxic? Many vaccines contain formaldehyde and aluminum, and some still contain thimerosal–a derivative of mercury. If you want to get into why this is an important preservative for vaccines, you can read here how thimerosal is metabolized, but I’ll summarize it for you:

Thimerosal, which is approximately 50% mercury by weight, has been one of the most widely used preservatives in vaccines. It is metabolized or degraded to ethylmercury and thiosalicylate. Ethylmercury is an organomercurial that should be distinguished from methylmercury… (Thimerosal in Vaccines,

(Methylmurcury is a neurotoxin, and something you would want to stay away from. That’s the one present in some fish.) The CDC and others claim that anything taken in extremely tiny quantities is usually not a detriment to your health. But still, the debate rages on, and I’ve known parents who strongly believed that their children were developmentally normal before getting a vaccine (especially the MMR), and soon thereafter they noticed a strong decline in the child towards symptoms of autism (in some cases severe).

Many, many parents that I worked with cited information or recollected something from a study that said the MMR vaccine causes autism. This study, so you know, was published by Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet medical journal in 1998. The study, with a ridiculously low n of 12 (the number of patients studied: more being more reliable and better), was later found to be falsified, with facts about patients altered. 10 out of the original 13 authors renounced the study, and it was later retracted by The Lancet. Parents around the world however, armed with just very understandable thought (I might save my child by not getting the MMR), decried the immunization as causing or being linked to autism and other PDD spectrum disorders.

In 2001 the Institute of Medicine commissioned the Immunization Safety Review Committee to review certain aspects of immunization safety. I’ll spare you the details, but I want you to know that they reported

…this body of evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, and that hypotheses generated to date concerning a biological mechanism for such causality are theoretical only. ( (Emphasis mine.)

So, are we giving our children something toxic and bad? Well, there are significant reasons to research what you’re putting into your children. Also, the MMR is usually given to children around eighteen months of age–basically, about the time children begin to develop socially and intellectually at a great rate. This is often a time when parents notice signs of early developmental issues–and might attribute those issues to external causes. Immunizations are incredibly important for the population to survive, and thrive. In 2004, the IOM’s Immunization Safety Review Committee Final Report concluded that the benefits for immunizing children against diseases far outweigh the potential and as yet unproven risks.

So, what should you do? Basically, if you feel that giving your infant or toddler four vaccines at one visit (each containing two or three different immunizations) is too much–by all means, spread them out. If you’ve noticed a lot of food allergies and developmental markers, or your child has lost any words that he or she once knew, immediately speak with a doctor.

So, do vaccines cause autism? Well, I can’t answer that. The evidence it pretty good that, no, they don’t. But I’m sure it will be decades before all the speculation is put to rest. However–I did get my kids immunized. Did you?


The best thing about being the Editor is that I get to add the Editor’s Note:

If you feel, for any reason, that you should not get your child immunized, or that you should, or that your doctor won’t listen to your concerns, or that something is wrong and no one will believe you, or that you need help, or that your children need help, or that you want to go back to work, or that you want to stay home, or that breastfeeding is wonderful, or that nursing is a Patriarchal society’s way of keeping you down, …or anything…

Do what your heart tells you. Because you’re the mom of your kids, and yours is the best decision for your family. See? Humanmama: no judgement.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Maura Jones September 2, 2011 at 7:29 am

Putting the autism/immunization link aside (fyi I never believed that they were linked in the first place) I have also done tons of research involving immunizations. The most compelling evidence that I ever got though was from my own mother who was a nurse in the pediatric ER for 10+ years. She is still a nurse and she works in homecare now. She said that there were so many cases of measles, rubellla, diptheria and the like because so many parents now have opted out of immunizations, and she has watched many children die. In many counties where the autism/immunization link was commonly believed there were some major outbreaks of the disease. I realize that there are a few toxins in the immunizations, but wouldn’t you rather have your child exposed to a small amount of toxins than dead because you chose not to immunize?? That is just my two cents. :)


Jessica@Team Rasler September 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Well, after lots of research and discussion and reading of scientific evidence, I feel pretty safe saying that I am nearly certain (because nothing in life is fully certain) that vaccines DO NOT cause autism, so I was surprised that your bottom line is that you can’t answer that. My take-away to people who ask me is to please, please get your children vaccinated so that babies who are too young or immunocompromised people (like my nephew with cancer) don’t get infected by serious diseases. I wish I could be as kind as you and just say people should do what their hearts tell them, but I feel pretty strongly about this issue.


Rebecca September 2, 2011 at 9:21 pm

My favorite part was the Editor’s note. AMEN!


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