Many parents worry that the vaccines recommended for a baby in the first year of life are just too much too soon for an infant's immature immune system. Those fears have fueled a growing trend of parents delaying or refusing to vaccinate their babies. But a new study in Pediatrics examined the long-term effects of delaying vaccines and found that children whose parents refused or postponed vaccines did no better than children who were vaccinated on time, when tested on things like speech, language, achievement, fine motor skills, attention, and general intellectual function seven-to-10-years later.
The news comes the same day that Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who did more than any one person to propagate the belief that vaccines cause autism, was barred from practicing medicine in Britain. Wakefield's 1998 study, published in The Lancet, fingered the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, as a cause of autism, though he looked at just 12 children. In February, The Lancet retracted his study, and Britain's regulatory group said Wakefield had been "dishonest" and "misleading" in conducting the research, including failing to disclose that he was working with lawyers who sought to sue vaccine manufacturers. Wakefield has moved to the United States.
The new study on delaying vaccines doesn't look at cause and effect, but it is one of the first to focus on whether postponing vaccinations provides health benefits to children. The study authors, at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, wrote that their findings "should be comforting to many parents with vaccine safety concerns: Children can receive their immunizations on time and expect to have the same neurodevelopmental outcomes as children with any other pattern of vaccine receipt."
They evaluated the records of 491 children born between 1993 and 1997 who got vaccinations on time, 235 who got recommended vaccines but not on time, and 311 who didn't get all of the recommended vaccines. The information was gathered for the Vaccine Safety Datalink project, which was created in 1990 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Immunization Safety Office and eight managed care organizations to monitor adverse effects of vaccines.
Although numerous studies since 1998 have found no link between childhood vaccines and autism, a January survey found that 25 percent of parents think vaccines cause autism, and 11 percent of parents think children don't need vaccines for measles and other diseases that are less common today due to vaccination rates. Because of that, measles cases in children are climbing in England and the United States, where the anti-vaccine controversy is most well-known. Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics launched a counter-offensive, using personal testimonials from parents to argue that vaccines protect children's health. Stories can be powerful, but stories without data can lead people astray. Data like that from this new study should make it easier for parents to make informed decisions on vaccines and their children's health.