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Parents of an autistic child are less likely to vaccinate any of their kids, study finds

Children with autism — and their siblings — are less likely to get vaccinated than their non-autistic peers, raising their risk of getting sick from preventable diseases, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Children with autism — and their siblings — are less likely to get vaccinated than their non-autistic peers, raising their risk of getting sick from preventable diseases, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Pan American Health Organization

Children with autism are less protected from preventable diseases.

That’s according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, which found that parents of an autistic child are less likely to vaccinate their autistic child and the child’s siblings.

Researchers looked at children born between January 1995 and September 2010 — and their younger siblings born between January 1997 and September 2014. Scientists examined 3,729 children who had autism and 592,907 who did not, the study says, and wanted to see how many recommended vaccines children received between the ages of 1 month and 12 years.

Among children with autism over the age of 7, only 82 percent received all of their vaccines recommended for those between the ages of 4 and 6, the study found. That’s much less than the 96 percent of their non-autistic peers who received the vaccines.

The study also found that 84 percent of autistic kids received the MMR vaccine — used to treat measles, mumps and rubella — while 95.9 percent of those without autism did the same.

But it didn’t just stop with the autistic children, as researchers say parents are less likely to vaccinate the siblings of a kid who has autism. Seventy-six percent of those who had an older sibling with autism got all of the recommended shots by their first birthday, the study says, while 84 percent of those whose older siblings didn’t have the disorder obtained all of those vaccinations.

The study didn’t find the reason behind that discrepancy, author Ousseny Zerbo told MD Magazine. But Zerbo added that “vaccine hesitancy or refusal may play a role in children not getting properly vaccinated.”

Study co-author Frank DeStefano said in a press release that he has a hypothesis for why parents of autistic children might be more wary of vaccines.

“Numerous scientific studies have reported no association between childhood vaccination and the incidence of autism spectrum disorders,” he said. “Nonetheless, this new study suggests that many children with autism and their younger siblings are not being fully vaccinated.”

And according to the study, “a large proportion” of parents with autistic children believe that vaccines played a role in their child’s diagnosis.

That belief probably stems from a now-retracted article from 1998 that claimed to find a link between the MMR vaccine and the risk for a child developing autism.

Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of BMJ, a British medical journal that debunked the study, told CNN that the findings appear to be “a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link (between vaccines and autism) by falsifying the data.”

In other words, there is no evidence that vaccines can cause autism.

Still, some parents in the U.S. have grown more reluctant to vaccinating their children in recent years. A 2016 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that around 90 percent of pediatricians encountered a parent who refused to vaccinate their child in 2013. That marked an increase from around 75 percent who responded the same in 2006. And a 2015 Gallup Survey found that 54 percent of Americans said it was “extremely important” for parents to vaccinate their children, down 10 points from a 2001 Gallup survey with the same question.

A Michigan judge sentenced one mother to seven days in jail in October after she refused to vaccinate her 9-year-old son, according to WXYZ. Rebecca Bredow said she “would rather sit behind bars standing up for what I believe in” than follow a November 2016 court order to get shots for her son.

“God forbid he were to be injured by one of the vaccines,” she told WXYZ. “That’s what scares me.”

Because vaccines provide crucial protection for children, DeStefano said researchers need to figure out how to promote a higher rate of vaccination for those with autism.

“We need to better understand how to improve vaccination levels in children with autism spectrum disorder and their siblings,” he said, “so they can be fully protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.”

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