For nearly two decades parents have been worried about a supposed link between vaccines and autism. The suggestion that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) could be linked to autism has caused so much stress for families and communities.
Scientists and doctors have been working hard to get parents the evidence they need to feel comfortable with the MMR vaccine in order to prevent measles outbreaks, and now one of the largest ever studies done on the vaccine has found that there is no evidence that the MMR vaccine increases the risk of autism.
In fact, the study, published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine found children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella are actually 7% less likely to develop autism than children who didn't get vaccinated.
This study is not the first to debunk the research of discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who first suggested vaccination and autism were linked in 1998, but it is the largest ever study to do so.
The Danish study involved 657,461 children. In that group, 6,517 were diagnosed with autism. The study's lead author, Dr. Anders Hviid of the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark, told Reuters that the results prove "Parents should not skip the vaccine out of fear for autism."
In an email to NPR Hviid explained that despite a body of research debunking Wakefield's work, "The idea that vaccines cause autism is still around despite our original and other well-conducted studies...Parents still encounter these claims on social media, by politicians, by celebrities, etc."
He's right, and with so much misinformation circulating it can be really hard for parents to make decisions about vaccines. Sometimes it seems like the easiest, safest decision is to do nothing, but as we've seen in recent outbreaks, that can leave communities and kids vulnerable to diseases like measles.
That's why this week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked Google, Facebook and Pinterest to help it combat online vaccine misinformation. The AAP also wants parents to talk to their pediatricians if they have concerns about vaccines, as it's found that often when parents are hesitant about vaccinating their doctor has information they need to make their decision.
Parents sometimes don't involve their pediatrician in their vaccine decision because they fear judgement, but the AAP's President, Dr. Kyle E. Yasuda, says moms and dads don't need to fear that, as pediatricians are used to having these conversations and respect that it is a parent's decision. They just want parents to have the best information to make that choice.
"Pediatricians talk with families every day about their children's health, and we respect parents who disagree with us," says Dr. Yasuda.
Online misinformation has driven a wedge between parents and pediatricians, but doctors are trying to reconnect with parents because they also want our children to be healthy, and want parents to know we don't need to be scared of this vaccine, or of judgment from pediatricians.
They've had this conversation many times, and they're happy to have it with you.