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Vaccine FAQ

Vaccine Benefits, Vaccine Risks: 10 Basic Questions Answered

2. I heard that the U.S. government says childhood vaccinations might cause autism and something called mitochondrial disease. Is this true? continued...

Louis Elsas, MD, professor of medical genetics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, says vaccination might very well trigger serious symptoms in people with mitochondrial disorders.

"But this could happen if a person with mitochondrial DNA defects gets a cold or one of the diseases the vaccine is supposed to stop," Elsas tells WebMD.

People worried that their children might be particularly susceptible to vaccines or medications may wish to seek genetic testing, Elsas says.

(Are you changing your child's vaccine schedule because of autism fears? Tell us what you're thinking on the Autism Support Group message board.)

3. Some autism advocacy groups say vaccines -- especially those that contain the mercury-based compound thimerosal -- can cause autism and brain damage. They are sincerely worried. Why shouldn't I believe them?

"Autism is a serious and very challenging disease for families to cope with," says Schuchat. "Parents want explanations of how this happened to their child. lt is important for us to support research and programs that will help us better understand the factors that lead to autism and to find the best treatments. But a very large number of scientific studies have been carried out, and extensive scientific reviews, that have concluded there is no causal connection between vaccines or the preservative thimerosal and autism.

"There are hundreds of studies that have looked one way or another at these issues. Some are animal studies, some are toxicology studies, and some are human studies with a number of different designs. There have been efforts to review the evidence, the direct human evidence and the indirect animal evidence. Those reviews don't just look at the last sentence in the article but look at the study methods and ask if the methods and the results justify the conclusions. [The most recent] extensive review was carried out by the Institute of Medicine with a number of experts and concluded the information from all of these studies taken together did not support a causal association [between vaccines and autism].

"They concluded that other factors or explanations for autism should be sought. And more recently, people have thought that genetic and some environmental research may be more promising than continuing to pursue thimerosal."

(Do you think the MMR vaccine causes autism? WebMD's Rod Moser, PA, PhD, and Steven Parker, MD, both say "no." Find out why on their blogs. )

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