Please Note: Lamaze does not endorse any particular practice in terms of childhood or prenatal vaccination nor does the organization specifically teach childbirth educators how they should guide expectant/new parents in this topic. Lamaze does, however, encourage parents and expectant moms to research and investigate the most current, evidence-based information on vaccines, as well as to have open discussions with care providers in order to make the best decision for you and your family.
By Alfred Romeo, RN, PhD
Much of the concern by parents has come from one poorly-done research study. The study, published back in 1998 in Lancet, made false claims about the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the preservative thimerosal. The preservative thimerosal contains a very small amount of mercury, causing some concerns. Since that time, the medical journal that published the study has publicly stated the research did not show any link between the vaccine and its preservative thimerosal and autism.
Vaccines are one of the most important medical advances in modern times. We have seen worldwide control of devastating diseases like polio and smallpox and are making progress in reducing other diseases, like chicken pox, hepatitis, pertussis, and other illnesses. Vaccines keep our children healthy and reduce disabilities that have lifelong consequences.
Even with all the evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, some parents are still concerned. In response to those concerns, vaccine manufacturers have reduced or eliminated the preservative thimerosal from vaccines. Most children’s vaccines do not have the preservative. Some of the current influenza, or flu, vaccines contain thimerosal at low levels that are safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding (see the Vaccines and Pregnancy fact sheet link below). Preservative-free flu vaccines are available for anyone who still may have concerns. Even with the reduction and elimination of the preservative, the rates of autism continue to increase, further showing that neither vaccines nor preservatives were the cause.
What is autism and what causes it? Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of conditions that include developmental delays, autism, and Asperger syndrome. Children typically have problems with communication, behaviors, and social skills. Currently, researchers think parents may pass on genes that may lead to ASD or that may become active after being exposed to something in the environment. Some researchers also believe the drugs thalidomide and valproic acid may increase the risk for ASD. Some of the symptoms of ASD, including communication and behavior problems, begin to be noticed as developmental delays when a child is about 18 months to 2 years old.
There is no cure for ASD, but early detection and treatment can help improve language, behavior, and social skills. Parents can learn about developmental milestones and ask their primary care provider (medical home) if they have any concerns.
Autism is still a puzzle, but parents can track their children’s growth, take them for regular check-ups, and read to them to give them the best start possible.
Alfred Romeo, RN, PhD, works at the Pregnancy Risk Line, a partnership between the Utah Department of Health and the University of Utah. His experiences include working as a nurse in newborn intensive care units, training medical homes in improving services, and training young adults with disabilities in leadership and advocacy.
The Pregnancy Risk Line is an affiliate of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), a non-profit with affiliates across North America. Utah women with questions or concerns about pregnancy or breastfeeding exposures can call 1-800-822-2229. Outside Utah, please call OTIS at 1-866-626-6847. OTIS is conducting several studies, including vaccine studies for influenza, meningitis, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). Women who have received these vaccines during their current pregnancy can call OTIS to volunteer to participate in the studies or learn more by visiting OTISPregnancy.org.