Outbreaks, Autism, and Side Effects: What Every (Future) OD Should Know About Vaccines


kid, vaccine, autismIn light of recent outbreaks of previously almost non-existent diseases such as measles, inquiring about a history of vaccines is now more important than ever. For this is reason, it is an essential part of a pediatric case history.

What should you do if your patient’s guardian states that they do not believe in vaccinations?

Are you able to answer questions your patients may have regarding vaccines?

Can you have an intelligent fact-based conversation regarding the claims that vaccines lead to autism?

As primary care providers, this topic can be a matter of life or death for our patients and members of our communities, so our responses need to be appropriate.

  • Why should I get my child vaccinated?

Vaccines help prevent diseases that can cause serious illness, permanent brain damage, and/or death in the pediatric population. They also prevent infection from commonly known diseases such as hepatitis A and measles, but also against uncommon conditions such as diphtheria. Most vaccines are administered before a child reaches school age (5-6 years old). It is important for parents to note that many vaccines require multiple administrations, and not receiving the correct dose will leave their child vulnerable to these diseases.

It is also extremely important to remember that children must reach a particular age before they are able to receive specific vaccinations. Therefore, refusing to vaccinate their child puts other children in the community who are too young to be vaccinated at risk.

  •  Don’t vaccines cause autism?

In 1998, a theory was proposed that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With the increased prevalence of ASD, many studies have been conducted to establish a correlation between the two. One of the most recent studies performed by Jain, Marshall, et al. examined the prevalence of the diagnosis of ASD in over 95,000 children who were given the MMR vaccine and who had an older sibling with an ASD diagnosis. The conclusion of the study stated, “In this large sample of privately insured children with older siblings, receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD, regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD.” In a review of many epidemiological studies, Gerber and Offit have also concluded that vaccines are not linked to autism and that multiple vaccinations do not weaken the immune system (additionally autism isn’t an immune-mediated disease).

Other studies conducted in the United Kingdom determined that there has been an increase in the diagnosis of ASD, despite steady MMR vaccination rates. Recently in Quebec, Canada, there was a noted decrease in MMR vaccination rates. However, when the prevalence of ASD was examined, there was a higher rate of ASD diagnoses.

  • Don’t vaccines cause side effects?

Vaccines are administered to the public to prevent health scares, illness and death. Therefore, vaccines are tested thoroughly and deliberately before they are available. It is possible to experience mild side effects such as fever after a vaccine administration.

  • You’re an optometrist and vaccines are for mumps or rubella. What do those diseases have to do with my child’s vision?

What many patients fail to realize is that systemic disease often presents with ocular manifestations. For example, post-natal mumps or rubella can present with ocular signs and symptoms that range in severity, which is why it is important for us to educate the parents. Also remember that as optometrists we are primary care providers, so we are not only concerned with our patients’ vision—but with their overall health and wellness.

Although we study optometry, we are also becoming public health advocates, considering that we want to preserve vision and prevent avoidable diseases. In order to educate our patients, we must first educate ourselves. Proper education will help protect ourselves, our patients, and our communities.

More information about vaccines and educational tools for patients (available from the American Public Health Association):



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