The national survey of attitudes toward autism reveals that a small but significant percentage of people still believe the disease is caused by childhood vaccines. Nearly one in four (24 percent) said that because vaccines may cause autism it was safer not to have children vaccinated at all. Another 19 percent were not sure. This at a time when the Centers for Disease Control reports that autism affects one in 150 children born in the United States, the researchers highlight.
Scientists say there is no evidence linking vaccines and autism, but the lingering fear is leading to fewer parents having their children vaccinated and a growing number of measles infections. The New York Times reported in August that measles cases in the first seven months of 2008 grew at the fastest rate in more than a decade.
The public's concern over vaccines stems from a controversial 1998 study linking autism and the MMR vaccine, which at the time contained the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. The study was later retracted by most of its authors and thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines in 2001, but responses to the just-completed survey show the public is still confused.
The survey asked specifically about the link between the preservative and autism. Nineteen percent of the respondents agreed with the statement "Autism is caused by a preservative once found in childhood vaccines". An additional 43 percent were not sure, meaning fewer than half (38 percent) of the respondents believe no link exists between the vaccine and autism.
Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that the cause of autism is unknown, according to the researchers. 76 percent of respondents agree with the statement: "At this time, scientists do not know exactly what causes autism."
The survey includes responses from 1000 men and women, 21 years old or older, randomly selected from throughout the nation. The telephone interviews were conducted between August 1 and August 29. The survey also explored people's knowledge of the disease, their exposure to people with autism and their support for early intervention programs.
MEDICA.de; Source: Florida Institute of Technology