International Meeting for Autism Research: Childhood Vaccinations and ASD: No Relationship Between Number or Schedule of Vaccinations and Diagnostic Outcome or Severity

Childhood Vaccinations and ASD: No Relationship Between Number or Schedule of Vaccinations and Diagnostic Outcome or Severity

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
1:00 PM
A. Margolis1, J. D. Jones2, A. Trubanova2, W. Jones2, K. Chawarska3 and A. Klin2, (1)Yale Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, (2)Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta & Emory School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, (3)Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT
Background: Recent increases in the number of recommended childhood vaccines have raised public concerns about the potential side effects of immunizations on children’s health. Because of the increasing prevalence of autism diagnoses over the last 15 years, this disorder, in particular, has become the focus of much of the attention and concern surrounding childhood vaccines. As a consequence of this debate, the use of childhood vaccines, especially the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), has decreased significantly, and this decrease has led to numerous outbreaks in diseases previously prevented by vaccines. Furthermore, research addressing the relationship between vaccines and autism has relied primarily on retrospective population studies, with little power to determine the role of immunizations in individual outcomes.

Objectives: The primary goal of this study is to examine the relationship between the frequency and number of childhood immunizations and the subsequent likelihood of developing autism. In addition, this study aims to investigate the relationship between childhood vaccines and disorder severity in children who do go on to develop autism.

Methods: Immunization data were collected for 91 children divided among the following three groups: (1) siblings of children with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis,  (N =48; gender = 37M); (2) children at risk for developmental delays (N = 7; gender = 5M); and (3) children expected to develop typically (N = 36; gender = 19M). All children were at least 2 years of age when their immunization records were collected. Individual immunization data were recorded and then compared with diagnostic outcome and behavioral data.

Results: Tests of association and linear multiple regressions revealed that neither a greater number of childhood vaccines nor a higher rate of vaccination had a positive relationship with subsequent autism spectrum diagnosis (N=8; gender=7M) or disorder severity, which was assessed in all participants. In addition, comparison of immunization data to behavioral indicators at 2 years of age did not reveal any relationship between either higher frequency or greater number of childhood vaccines and subsequent negative behavioral outcomes. Likewise, neither vaccination with MMR nor the age of MMR vaccination was significantly related to outcome. Instead, because siblings of children with autism were less likely to be vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, both correlations and multiple regressions revealed a significant relationship between higher rates of vaccination and non-ASD behavioral outcomes.

Conclusions: These results suggest that childhood vaccines do not increase children’s risk of developing autism and do not exacerbate the disorder severity in children who are later diagnosed with autism. Children who receive a greater number of vaccines overall, who receive the MMR vaccine, or who receive immunizations at a higher rate, do not differ significantly on subsequent behavioral measures from children who receive vaccines on an alternative schedule or children who do not receive vaccines. Instead, the results of this study emphasize heritability in risk for autism, and also indicate that siblings of children with an autism diagnosis are less likely to be vaccinated, which actually increases their risk for contracting other illnesses.

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