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Vaccines don't cause autism: Can we move on now?

- By Rosanne Spector

David Hughes

Credit: David Hughes

As the spring Stanford Medicine special report on vaccination rolled off the press, the judges working for the U.S. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program ruled on three test cases, deciding against parents' claims that vaccines had caused their children to develop autism. The Feb. 12 decision virtually eliminates any grounds for its granting compensation in the roughly 5,000 remaining claims of vaccine-induced autism. What else is there to say?

Plenty, as you'll read in the special report, 'Hot shots: Vaccines under the gun.' The polarized battle between vaccine opponents and advocates that threatens to destroy hard-won public health gains isn't ending any time soon. And while vaccine advocates receive hate mail and even death threats, infectious diseases are making a comeback in wealthy nations where many citizens have taken for granted the absence of these scourges.

In Britain, for instance, MMR vaccination is down and measles cases are surging, with 1,348 measles cases in England and Wales last year. In 1998 there were just 56 cases. In the United States, the number of cases is still small, but is rising.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, a long-time vaccine advocate, leads off the report with a letter to readers underscoring why she believes vaccines save lives. 'Widespread measles vaccination has resulted in a drop of measles incidence [in the United States] from 894,134 cases in 1941 to 44 cases in 2002,' she writes. 'Yet sadly in 2008, there was a disturbing turnaround: 135 people were infected with measles during one of the largest outbreaks in over a decade. Two-thirds of the infected had purposely not been vaccinated, often due to fears about the vaccine.'

Also in the issue:

  • A Q&A with actor Amanda Peet, who volunteers as a spokesperson for vaccinateyourbaby.org.
  • An essay by NBC News chief medical editor Nancy Snyderman, MD, on why she stopped covering vaccination - and why she has re-entered the fray.
  • A feature on the India-based project to develop a vaccine to stop rotavirus, a major killer in the developing world. Harry Greenberg, MD, senior associate dean for research, is part of the international team.
  • A story about Stanford's part in the federally sponsored network seeking explanations for adverse reactions to vaccines. Cornelia Dekker, MD, professor of pediatrics, leads the Stanford efforts.
  • A look at attempts to turn plants into vaccine machines, featuring work by Ronald Levy, MD, professor of oncology.
  • An article on the struggle to improve vaccines for senior citizens - and convince the seniors to roll up their sleeves and get them.

Also of note:

  • A story about the man who created the world's most complete photograph collection of human dissections, David Bassett, MD.
  • A peek at the world of tiny plumbing projects, where researchers in the new field of microfluidics shrink entire labs to the size of a postage stamp.

The magazine, including Web-only features, is available online at http://stanmed.stanford.edu. To request the print version, call 723-6911.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

2023 ISSUE 1

How social factors make or break us