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Message from the Chief Science Officer regarding the Institute of Medicine’s report on Adverse Effects of Vaccines

August 26, 2011 58 comments

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer

On Thursday, August 25, the Institute of Medicine’s Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice released its report on the scientific evidence related to adverse effects of vaccines. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization which is part of the National Academy of Sciences. IOM members are scientific and medical experts who serve as pro bono as advisors to the U.S. Congress and other policy-makers. They are periodically asked to provide a review of the evidence on matters of public concern and welfare.

Among several other topics, the IOM committee specifically reviewed the evidence regarding whether the MMR vaccine or the DTaP vaccine is causally linked to autism. In addition to reviewing epidemiological evidence, they reviewed case studies and research on biological mechanisms that might explain a connection between a vaccine and an adverse outcome, such as autism. They specifically assessed the evidence that vaccines could alter neuronal development resulting in autism symptoms, arising from chronic encephalopathy, mitochondrial disorders or other underlying disorders. The committee reviewed 22 epidemiological studies that evaluated the connection between risk for autism and the MMR vaccine and concluded that the evidence does not support a causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee only found one study on the relationship between the DTaP vaccine and autism and concluded that the data were insufficient to assess an association.

The committee noted that reports of case studies linking the onset of autism to infectious diseases such as encephalitis and malaria suggest that infection or inflammation may underlie some cases of autism. Furthermore, evidence from postmortem brain tissue suggests that autism may involve inflammatory processes affecting the brain. The authors argue that, at a minimum, prior to ascribing autism to vaccination it would be important to rule out chromosomal and single-gene defects, including a variety of metabolic (e.g. mitochondrial disorder) and inflammatory or infectious diseases that may exist prior to vaccination.

The IOM report is consistent with Autism Speaks’ policy statement on vaccines. Given the present state of the science, the proven benefits of vaccinating a child to protect them against serious diseases outweigh the hypothesized risk that vaccinations might cause autism. Autism Speaks continues to support research that explores the relationship between innate or acquired metabolic, inflammatory, or infectious diseases that may play a role in the etiology of autism.

Autism Speaks and Vaccines

January 6, 2011 89 comments

Many studies have been conducted on large samples to determine if a link exists between vaccination – specifically the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and thimerosal-containing vaccines – and increases in the prevalence of autism. These studies have not supported a link between either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal and the increased prevalence of autism. Scientific evidence indicates that the proven benefits of vaccinating a child to protect them against serious diseases outweigh the hypothesized risk that vaccinations might cause autism. It is possible that, in rare cases, an immunization might trigger the onset of autism symptoms due to an underlying medical or genetic condition. Autism Speaks is conducting studies on the underlying biology of autism, including studies to better understand medical and genetic conditions that are associated with autism.

Autism Speaks is funding research to develop effective treatments for individuals with autism spectrum disorders across the lifespan. We support a wide range of studies that are exploring behavioral, biomedical and pharmacological treatments. Parents need and deserve research to answer questions regarding what treatments are effective for their child.

For more information please see our vaccine statement and an interview with Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, about vaccines and autism.

Any link between vaccines and autism? Put this issue to rest once and for all, one way or the other?

December 21, 2010 9 comments

“Got Questions?” is a new weekly feature on our blog to address the desire for scientific understanding in our community.  We received over 3000 responses when we asked what science questions were on your mind. We answered a few here and the Autism Speaks Science staff will address the other themes we received in this weekly post.

We really wish it were that simple. Several epidemiological studies have explored whether either the MMR vaccine or thimerosol, a preservative previously used in vaccines, are linked to autism, and these studies have not supported a link. However, these studies were not designed to identify effects in a small population of potentially vulnerable children due to rare genetic and/or medical conditions. We are seeking to understand if vulnerable populations exist, and if so, how we identify them early so they can be protected from public health threats in the safest manner possible. For more information please see our vaccine statement and an interview with Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer, about vaccines and autism.

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