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Do Vaccines Put Children At Risk For Autism?


Do Vaccines Put Children At Risk For Autism?
Pediatrician: Benefits Of Vaccines Outweigh Risks

May 13, 2004

HERSHEY, Pa. -- With cases of autism on the rise, many parents are questioning what to do to protect their children from getting it.

There's been some controversy over whether or not vaccines play a part.

Jennifer and Jim Bouder's first son seemed fine, but as Donovan neared his second birthday they noticed something wasn't quite right.

"I remember at age two he was diving off the dining room table head first, and I didn't have a clue as to how to direct his energy," Jennifer Bouder said.

"The first sign we saw was food selectivity. He limited his diet to at times toast and goldfish crackers, things like that," Jim Bouder said.

By age four, Donovan was diagnosed with autism, a disorder that affects how Donovan learns and interacts with the world around him.

"My first thought wasn't, 'What caused this?' My first thought after we finally had a diagnosis was, 'OK. What do we need to do now?'" Jim Bouder said.

The Bouders enrolled Donovan in a special school designed for autistic children. Still, like many others, they question how this could have happened.

Some blame vaccines.

"Many physicians will quickly say, 'No. There's no connection,' but I don't think we can dismiss it that easily," developmental pediatrician Janette Ramer said.

Ramer has been studying autism in children for 25 years. The latest study shows children are 40 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder than they were just five years ago, so why the increase? No one knows for sure, but the cause, some believe, is linked to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

"The issue there is a lot of children -- about 40 percent of children who have autism -- begin to have their symptoms between about 15 to 18 months. Of course, the vaccine is given at 15 months, so just the time frame sort of implicated the vaccine," Ramer said.

There are also questions regarding Thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that was once used in vaccines to prolong their shelf life.

"Families need to understand that, in this point in time, that preservative has been removed from the vaccines, has been since 2001 in this country," Ramer said.

Whether or not children exposed to the preservative prior to 2001 contributed to autism is still a question.

"I remember facing these vaccinations with our second child and wondering, you know, 'Do we go through with this or not?' We did, but I was very hesitant just not having those answers. It was a big decision to make," Jennifer Bouder said.

"The evidence, unfortunately, is not clear -- it just isn't. Because you can't measure a past exposure to mercury," Ramer said.

So are vaccines safe? Ramer said for the most part they are and that the benefits outweigh the risks, but concerned parents should ask their pediatricians to make sure the vaccines and even flu shots their child gets are preservative free.

In the meantime, research is under way that could mean hope for children like Donovan.

"I want him to have a job and live as independently as he possibly can and live a full and happy life. He has that potential," Jim Bouder said.

Other research regarding genetics and exposure to heavy metals such as copper and zinc is under way. Those studies are being conducted at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

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