Pressroom

Health Professionals Urge Parents, Policy-Makers Not to Lose Sight of Immunization’s Successes

Evidence Disproving Link Between Vaccine and Autism Submitted to April 4 Congressional Hearing

Contact:

Diana Olson, (703) 299-0201
Carrie Schum, (202) 973-5800

Abril 4, 1999

As the U.S. prepares to commemorate National Infant Immunization Week (April 16-22), health professionals are urging parents and doctors to ensure that all children are protected by immunizations. The scientific evidence shows that immunizations are one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children from serious infectious diseases, according to the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii).

Thanks to immunization, highly contagious illnesses such as measles and pertussis (whooping cough), which used to be a common part of childhood, are now relatively rare in this country. Only a decade ago, the U.S. experienced a decline in the use of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine which led to a tragic resurgence of measles- resulting in more than 55,000 cases and 125 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a result of redoubled immunization efforts, only 86 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. last year.

Before the pertussis vaccine became available in the 1940s, the disease was a major cause of childhood deaths in the U.S., with more than 200,000 cases reported annually. Today, thanks to the vaccine, incidence has decreased by more than 98 percent, to an average of about 3,700 cases per year, according to the CDC. Among non-immunized children around the world, pertussis still remains a major threat- killing an estimated 300,000 children worldwide annually.

While it is true that no vaccine is 100 percent safe, overall, immunization has an outstanding safety record. Vaccines are extremely safe, and as a result of medical research and ongoing review by experts in infectious disease, they are getting safer and more effective all the time.

But despite immunization’s success and safety record, stories about real and perceived side effects of vaccines are causing some parents and policy-makers to question the country’s commitment to immunization. The House Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing on Thursday (April 6) to examine increased rates of autism, including an unsubstantiated link between autism and vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine. Because autism is usually diagnosed in children when they are 18 to 30 months old, shortly after children receive many recommended immunizations, some parents may attribute the emerging symptoms of autism to the administration of a vaccine. In fact, the best evidence demonstrates that autism results from complex genetic factors and therefore originates prior to birth, not afterward.

‘The best available science indicates that the development of autism is completely unrelated to use of the MMR or any other vaccine,’ said NNii Executive Director Bruce Gellin, MD, MPH, in a written statement submitted to the Committee on Tuesday (April 4).

More information about immunizations and vaccines, including a fact sheet on the MMR vaccine and autism, is available on NNii’s website, http://www.immunizationinfo.org.

The National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) was established in 1998 to provide the public, health professionals, policy-makers and the media with up-to-date, scientifically valid information related to immunization for the purpose of helping them understand the issues and make informed decisions. An organization of physicians, nurses and other health professionals, NNii serves as the voice of science and medicine on immunization issues. NNii’s partner organizations are the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Nurses Association.

Editor’s Note: Press copies of NNii’s statement to the House Government Reform Committee are available from NNii at
(703) 299-0430 or dolson@idsociety.org.