Letter: Vaccination debate continues

Have you heard the claim that children’s vaccinations can cause autism?

Have you heard the claim that children’s vaccinations can cause autism? As a special educator for most of my 39-year career in education, I have been interested in such claims. I work with many professionals on school staffs and also families who have children on the autism spectrum.

Recently, I heard of a report about an Amish community of 30,000 people in southeastern Pennsylvania. Dan Olmsted, an investigative reporter wrote a series of articles between 2005 and 2007 claiming that there is no autism in this population because the Amish do not vaccinate their children. I was surprised and decided to determine the credibility of this claim being touted as support for the anti-vaccine campaign.

I started by checking the source of these claims. I found that, besides being a reporter, Dan Olmsted was also a former senior editor for United Press International (UPI), a news agency of the Unification Church company News World Communications. His columns on health and medicine appeared regularly in the Washington Times, also owned by the church, and were syndicated nationally from UPI’s Washington D.C. bureau. He currently owns and edits the Age of Autism website, which he describes as the “Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic”. Possibly some bias here?

Next, I needed documentation that the Amish do not have any cases of autism in their population. Online, I found a Clinic for Special Children in Strasborg, Pennsylvania. This clinic serves the uninsured rural Amish and Mennonite communities of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Here is a link to their own page about disease and mutations: https://clinicforspecialchildren.org/services/.

This clinic lists autism as a condition they treat. Sadly, this rural Amish community experiences a high incidence of genetic disorders due to the centuries of intermarriage and limited gene pool. Thus, the Clinic for Special Children services many children with special needs, including autism.

As well, I looked for documentation of vaccination rates of Amish children. I found a 2011 study in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics. This journal article reported about a survey completed by Amish parents who state that they do immunize their children, but on a limited basis.

The doctors sent out 1,000 questionnaires to a random sampling of Amish parents in Holmes County, PA. They report that, “37 per cent of the parents responded. Among the 359 respondents, 68 per cent stated that all of their children had received at least one immunization, and 17 per cent reported that some of their children had received at least one immunization. Only 14 per cent of the parents reported that none of their children had received immunizations.”

To confirm this information, I contacted the Clinic for Special Children in Strasborg. The following statement is part of the email I received from the clinic on June 19: “The Clinic for Special Children highly recommends vaccination for all patients, and contrary to any other claims, we do see autism in the Plain communities.” We now know the Amish do vaccinate their children on a limited basis and they do have children on the autism spectrum.

Finally, I considered the question of a link between vaccination and autism. I found online a population study described in the New England Journal of Medicine. In 2002, five Danish doctors compared autism rates of over half a million children. 82 per cent of the children had been vaccinated with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and 18 per cent of the children were not vaccinated. They found, “There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder.”

Most importantly, there are many of these studies published in scholarly journals, succinctly tabulated and described in the 2009 edition of the Oxford Journal at: http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/48/4/456.full.

As concerned parents, educators, and citizens, let’s do our homework; our children deserve accurate information.

Nadine Steele

Fernie, B.C.