Image: USACE Europe District/CC BY 2.0
The Institute of Medicine, an independent non-profit organization that works without political or commercial agenda, just released a study that should further allay fears about the risks of vaccination. Widely publicized allegations that vaccinations may be linked to rising trends in autism, in particular, have been credited with an increase in parents who reject vaccinations for their children. Simultaneously, the CDC reports several significant outbreaks of diseases for which vaccinations are available, such as measles or mumps. The studies which formed the basis of the fears about MMR vaccination and autism have been scientifically repudiated and even rescinded by the journal that originally published the data. But changing the opinion of a fearful public, especially when that public is parents trying desperately to do what is best for their children, requires more than retractions and corrections.
The study reviewed large volumes of available literature on vaccinations, including both epidemiological studies (reports of effects in the population) and mechanistic studies (biochemical or cinical evidence for how adverse effects might occur). Conclusions on a set of 158 potential adverse effects linked to vaccination are mapped along a spectrum from convicingly supporting that vaccination causes an adverse effect, through favoring acceptance or rejection of a causal link, to inadequate evidence.
The IOM study may help to give opinion-makers a firmer footing for asserting that vaccination is the right choice: a choice that has reduced childhood diseases so dramatically that those mongering fears about possible side effects of vaccination have forgotten the horrible risks of the diseases that marred generations before the advent of vaccines. The take-home message for concerned parents needs to be separated from the many cases of inadequate evidence to reject an adverse-effect relationship and the right-to-know understanding of the rare or minor side effects that are causally linked to vaccinations. It is this confusing surfeit of information that makes it difficult to let go of now established fears.
The message parents should be hearing: if you decide against vaccination, you are not saving your child from autism, but putting him or her at risk of diseases that once again are spreading and could pick up speed in an under-vaccinated population.
More on Vaccinations:
TreeHugger Forums: Immunization
Lancet Retracts Study Linking Vaccines to Autism
Op-Eds Misrepresent Science: The Effect on Public Opinion on Autism, Vaccinations, and Climate Change