By Dr Musa Mohd Nordin
It is most unfortunate that The Star newspaper has found it appropriate to once again resuscitate a long and buried issue!
It has unnecessarily created a panic on social media and confused further the Malaysian public about the link between vaccines and autism which has been debunked repeatedly.
This false claim between vaccine and disease syndrome is an ancient issue first hatched when Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine in 1796. Then, anti-vaccine activists who believed that vaccination was an act against God’s providence alleged that the smallpox vaccine caused syphilis!
Today, the allegation is that the MMR vaccine causes autism and the Star newspaper has now headlined the claims of a few parents who posit that vaccines given simultaneously cause autism.
It does not take too much of investigative reporting to refute all the claims of vaccine links with autism. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the Centres for Disease Control in the US and the Ministry of Health of Malaysia have unequivocally stated that none of the vaccines given singularly or simultaneously causes autism.
A study on childhood vaccines which analysed 20,000 reports published from 2010 to 2013, concluded that immunisations do not lead to autism. The findings have dissipated the fears propagated by anti-vaccine campaigners such as Hollywood stars Jim Carey and Jenny McCarthy.
We very much empathise with the parents who have to nurture a child with autism. Research on the causes of autism has shown that autism is a genetic condition which is even more heritable than breast cancer. Screening tools are now available to identify children at risk for autism by one year of age, indicating that the changes of autism predate the vaccines given at a year old.
We would suggest to the parents who have noticed the regression of their children’s neurodevelopmental milestones to seek the opinion of our paediatric neurology colleagues to exclude the possibility of a neurodegenerative disorder.
Studies in the UK and USA suggest that rates of autism are no different now than they were 40 years ago, before we gave most of the vaccines we now give to children. This suggests that the “apparent increase” in the cases of autism reported over the last decade are largely a result of different classifications of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and better recognition of cases.
Developing a vaccine is a highly complex and regulated process. It takes at least 10 – 15 years of research and clinical testing before they are approved by global and national regulatory authorities and made available to the public. Diligent and unrelenting pharmacovigilance is undertaken to ensure vaccine safety and efficacy. The exhaustive volume of available scientific evidence confirms that vaccines are safe and effective and should allay our concerns.
It has been widely acclaimed that, with the exception of clean drinking water, immunisation is the most powerful public health intervention programme. Approximately 2.5 million deaths are prevented and 750,000 children are saved from intellectual and physical disabilities each year by the global immunisation programme. And there is an opportunity to save more lives and prevent more disabilities if the currently available vaccines are better and more widely distributed and utilised.
It is our fervent hope that both the mainstream and alternative media would be our partners in health, promoting the National Immunisation Programme (NIP), thus investing in the future of our children’s health.
Dr Musa Mohd Nordin is a Consultant Paediatrician at the KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital.
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