August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. Many Americans have embraced the myth that vaccines cause a number of conditions, including autism. This fear originated with a 1997 study published by Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon. Published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, the study suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was increasing autism in British children. The paper has since been discredited due to serious errors in the way the study was conducted and conflicts of interest.  Dr. Wakefield lost his medical license. Ensuing studies have repeatedly shown his research to be inaccurate with no studies conducted identifying a link between vaccines and autism.

What causes autism?  Nobody in the scientific community knows for certain, but there are some theories being investigated.

Genetics. For some children, autism spectrum disorder can be associated with a genetic disorder, such as Rett syndrome or fragile X syndrome. For other children, genetic changes (mutations) may increase their risk. Still other genes may affect brain development or the way that brain cells communicate; they may also determine the severity of symptoms.

Environment. Researchers are currently exploring whether factors such as viral infections, medications, complications during pregnancy, or air pollutants play a role in triggering autism spectrum disorder.

Certain factors increase a child’s risk, including:

  • Gender. Boys are about four times more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder than girls are.
  • Family history. Families who have one child with autism spectrum disorder have an increased risk of having another child with the disorder.
  • Children with certain medical conditions have a higher than normal risk of autism spectrum disorder or autism-like symptoms.
  • Extremely preterm babies. Babies born before 26 weeks of gestation may have a greater risk of autism spectrum disorder.
  • Parents’ ages. There may be a connection between children born to older parents and autism spectrum disorder, but more research is necessary to establish this link.

Back to vaccines. Currently, the U.S. is experiencing outbreaks of previously controlled diseases because of misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Outlined below are several important reasons to vaccinate!

Immunization can save your child’s life. Diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children have been eliminated completely, and others are close to extinction, primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. Polio is the perfect example. Previously one of the most feared diseases in the U.S., thanks to vaccines there are now no reported cases of polio in this country.

Immunization protects all of us.  Children in the U.S. still get vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough (pertussis). According to the Department of Health and Human Service, since 2010 there have been between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of whooping cough each year in the U.S. About 10 to 20 of those who died as a result of contracting whooping cough were babies, many of whom were too young to be fully vaccinated. While some babies are too young for vaccination, others may not be able to receive vaccines due to severe allergies or weakened immune systems. To help keep everyone safe, it is important that those who are able to get vaccinated are fully immunized.

Immunization protects future generations. Vaccines have reduced or eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. If we continue vaccinating now and vaccinating completely, parents in the future may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children in the future.

School will be starting soon. If you haven’t already, please get your children vaccinated before the start of the school year.  The most common vaccines required for children starting school are polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP), measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), hepatitis B and varicella (Chickenpox). Vaccination is important for your health, the health of your children and community, and future generations.

Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available. A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives. When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.