There is still no scientific evidence that links vaccines with autism.
Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Paul Offit spoke at Huntsman Hall on Tuesday about the stigmatization of vaccines and its effect on society. He explained that vaccines have never been concretely linked to autism spectrum disorders.
In 1998, British surgeon and researcher Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the British journal, The Lancet, linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. His paper correlated with a drop in vaccination rates in Britain, while the number of measles cases soared. The paper was withdrawn in 2010.
Despite scientific studies that have since suggested otherwise, some parents still have the notion that their children’s mental problems were caused by the vaccine.
A reluctance to vaccinate may be responsible for the continued presence of the diseases. Last year, 223 cases of measles were diagnosed in the United States. “Every year, children come into our hospital and die of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Offit said.
He is dedicated to educating the public about the safety of vaccines.
“There is a lot at stake here,” Offit said. “And [science] shouldn’t be politicized to the amount it is.” He said that many scientific papers have been published in the last decade to support the safety of vaccines.
However, some vaccine dissenters now also link thimerosal - a compound used to preserve vaccines - and too many vaccines given early in childhood to autism.
“If this was just scientific illiteracy, I would be more optimistic,” Offit said. He referenced the media’s tendency to exaggerate single-study cases, to embrace mavericks and to promote controversy as other factors that negatively influence public health.
In general, students responded positively to Offit’s remarks. “I didn’t realize so many people were misinformed,” College junior Jennifer Zhou said.
“The struggle [Offit] faced with the media was interesting,” Wharton junior Nikhil Das said. “I like it when the media brings in scientists to talk.” Das added that he plans to vaccinate his children.
The Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club hosted Offit’s talk. Wharton and College sophomore Chetna Johri, an organizer of WUHC’s speaker series, said that the club was enthusiastic to have Offit.
“We thought that focusing more on the scientific aspect of healthcare would bring in a different audience than we traditionally have,” Johri said.
WUHC also seems to be living up to Offit’s wish to promote science. “No venue is too small [to stand up for science],” he said.