Do vaccines cause autism?

Do vaccines cause autism? It is a truism that nothing can ever be disproven (in fact, one of the most solid philosophical proofs is that neither science — nor any other extant method of human discovery — can prove any empirical claims either).

That said, the evidence for vaccines causing autism is about as good as the the evidence that potty-training causes autism. Symptoms of autism begin to occur around some time after the 2-year-old vaccinations, which is also about the same time potty-training typically happens. Otherwise, a number of studies have failed to find any link. Nonetheless, the believers in the vaccines-cause-autism theory have convinced some reasonably mainstream writers and even all three major presidential candidates that the evidence is, at the worst, only “inconclusive.”

My purpose here is not to debunk the vaccine myth. Others have done it better than I can. My purpose is to point out that, even if the myth were true, not vaccinating your children would be a poor solution.

It has been such a long time since we’ve had to deal with polio and smallpox, that people have forgotten just how scary they were. In 1952, at the height of the polio epidemics, around 14 out of 100,000 of every Americans had paralytic polio. 300-500 million people died of smallpox in the 20th century. Add in hepatitis A, hepatitis B, mumps, measles, rubella, diptheria, pertussis, tetanus, HiB, chicken pox, rotavirus, meningococcal disease, pneumonia and the flu, and no wonder experts estimate that “fully vaccinating all U. S. children born in a given year from birth to adolescence saves an estimated 33,000 lives and prevents an estimated 14 million infections.”

Thus, while current estimates are that 0.6% of American children develop autism, 0.8% would have died without vaccines — and that’s not counting blindness, paralysis, etc. It seems like a good trade, even if you assume that every single case of Autism is due to vaccines.

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