Childhood Vaccines Save Lives

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March of Dimes, CDC urged parents not to be frightened of childhood vaccines by the suggestion in an upcoming episode of the ABC-TV drama, "Eli Stone" that the mercury-based preservative thimerosal -- which is no longer used in vaccines -- may lead to autism.

"The implication that vaccinations cause autism is irresponsible and counter productive," said Michael Katz, M.D., senior vice president for Research and Global Programs for the March of Dimes. "Although this is just a television show, and not reality, it may scare parents into not having their children immunized, leaving them vulnerable to serious disease, disability, and even death."

Although several carefully performed scientific studies have searched for a link between autism and the use of thimerosal in vaccines, no such link has been found. Nevertheless, since 2002, all routine childhood vaccines given in the United States have been free of thimerosal. In fact, a study by the California State Public Health Department, published in the January 2008 issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry, determined that reported autism cases in California continued to climb even after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. The researchers noted that if there had been a risk from the vaccines, autism rates should have dropped.

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The March of Dimes says vaccinations are safe and effective in protecting unborn babies, newborns, children, and adults against very serious, life-threatening infections such as polio, whooping cough, and rubella (German measles). Before the development of vaccines, thousands of babies and children died or were seriously disabled every year from these diseases. Because immunization programs of the 20th century were so successful, many of today's young parents do not understand that the risk for these diseases to re-emerge is real, Dr. Katz said.

For example, small outbreaks of rubella continue to occur in the U.S., and the potential for susceptible pregnant women to become infected continues to exist. Rubella is a mild childhood illness that poses a serious threat of birth defects to the fetus if the mother contracts the illness during pregnancy.

Public participation in immunization programs is critical to their success and effectiveness, Dr. Katz noted. "The more children who are immunized, the lower the risk of any individual's being exposed to an infection which can cause illness or even death."

The March of Dimes Foundation supported research that led to the development of vaccines that have eliminated polio in the United States and most other countries. The foundation continues to support efforts to incase immunization coverage so that children are protected against preventable diseases.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by language, social, and behavioral abnormalities. Although no one really knows for certain, autism appears to be present at birth, even if it is not diagnosed until early childhood. Nevertheless, much about the disorder remains mysterious. Dr. Katz urged more biomedical research into the underlying causes of autism and related disorders.

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