Autism and Vaccinations: Politics and Science Don’t Mix
This seminar will critically review the controversy surrounding the question: Do vaccinations cause autism? In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a landmark study to this effect concluding that adverse immunological reactions to the measles, mumps, rubella, vaccination sometimes result in autistic regression. Since then, the medical profession (and the media) have done much to discredit this interpretation of his data. The result was that the original paper was retracted by the journal and by other authors on the paper, and accusations of fraud have been raised. The underlying “politics” of the controversy appear to be that the medical profession is concerned that parents will resist vaccinating their children for fear of “autism” and that this, in turn, will result in a resurgence of measles, mumps, and/or rubella. This seminar will review the behavioral and neurobiological features of autism and then explore the vaccination controversy in depth, critically assessing publications allegedly refuting Wakefield’s claim. We will first distinguish two forms of autism: autism present at birth versus autistic regression. Next, we will examine data from animal models that clearly demonstrate that immune challenge early in life leads to behavioral deficits quite akin to “autistic regression” as originally proposed by Wakefield. After appropriate animal care training, students will participate in a laboratory study assessing autistic-like regression of developing behaviors in mouse pups following the administration of agents that alter neural development. Finally, we will review the recent U.S. Court of Federal Claims’ Vaccine Injury Compensation Program that appears to support the hypothesis that adverse reactions to vaccinations might sometimes lead to autistic regression.