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Is Rubella Vaccination Playing A Role In The Rise In Autism?

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Much has been written about the declining use of the MMR vaccine in the UK due to concerns about its possible connection to autism.  Ironically, in spite of this, the BBC recently reported, “New mothers and women hoping to become pregnant are to be offered the MMR jab because supplies of the single rubella vaccine have run out.”

In a stunningly irresponsible fit of pro-vaccine enthusiasm,  Dr Elizabeth Miller, of the Health Protection Agency, reportedly remarked to the BBC that "There are no potential adverse effects as a result of receiving the MMR vaccination when women are planning to become pregnant, or after childbirth."

"NO POTENTIAL ADVERSE EFFECTS"?  Aside from the fact that one can never reasonably say there is NO potential for side effects, among the things that are known about MMR and its component vaccines, the following can be stated:

1)  Merck itself has warned about potential adverse effects from administration during pregnancy and nursing. 

2)  The Institute of Medicine found that MMR and/or its component vaccines can cause arthritis, thrombocytopenia, and anaphylaxis. (1,2)

3)  There have been thousands of adverse MMR vaccine-associated reactions among those 18 and over reported to VAERS.

Given that the vaccine was designed specifically for childhood use, it is not clear that much testing of adults has ever been conducted.  Certainly, since MMR has not long been used by adults, little can be known of its long-term effects in that population.

Beyond the more obvious question whether or not MMR is safe and if it should be recommended for adult women of child-bearing age, however, lies a more provocative and critical series of questions:  Has congenital rubella syndrome actually declined?  If so, how much has it declined?  How much of that decline is rubella vaccination responsible for?

Vaccination against rubella is known to result in a subclinical or mild case of the disease. 

Rubella (German measles) is a disease for which there is a widely used vaccine.  (It is generally administered via the MMR vaccine.)  It is, in itself, a mild, often even subclinical disease.  The reason it is recommended/mandated is to protect the developing fetus, which, if exposed to the virus during a critical period while still in the womb, can develop a serious condition called congenital rubella syndrome

There is evidence that the rubella vaccinated, including pregnant women, are getting subclinical cases of rubella, just as is the rest of the population.  What does vaccination accomplish if all it does is result in a subclinical case of an already mild or subclinical disease? 

Moreover, what does vaccination accomplish if previously vaccinated pregnant women not only can get  subclinical cases of rubella, but that such cases can result in congenital rubella syndrome (CRS)?

Unfortunately rubella vaccine immunity also appears to wane over time.  On the other hand, natural immunity to rubella is thought to generally be life-long.

Would it not be better to expose children, particularly non-immune teenage girls, to rubella in order to increase the likelihood that one would be immune during pregnancy, rather than to risk the possibility of getting rubella while pregnant?  As Dr. Hugh Paul stated in "The Control of Diseases", which was written in 1964, before formulation of the rubella vaccine, "The disease (rubella) cannot be prevented, and in view of its very mild character, and the possibility that it may have catastrophic effects if contracted by an expectant mother, it is questionable if it should be prevented in childhood and adolescence even if this were possible.  It has been suggested that female children should be deliberately exposed to infection in order to achieve a life-long immunity from the disease and possibly from malformation in the offspring in later life.  This idea is not an unreasonable one... Rubella does not kill, and even complications are uncommon." 

And if rubella during pregnancy is often subclinical among the vaccinated, how diligent are we being in evaluating newborns for congenital rubella syndrome since serological testing is necessary to confirm CRS and often even rubella itself? 

There are a number of symptoms associated with the condition.  Two of the possible symptoms are "developmental delay" and hearing loss, both of which might not be noticed immediately.  Are we assuming something isn't congenital rubella syndrome simply because the mother was vaccinated?  Are we testing every infant or child who shows "developmental delay" or hearing loss for congenital rubella syndrome?

The textbook "Vaccines" lists a group of "prominent clinical findings in congenital rubella syndrome". Among them are autism and diabetes.  Are we testing every infant and child with autism or diabetes for CRS?

Some of these conditions, including autism and diabetes, are thought to be on the rise. 

Could these increases be occurring not only because rubella vaccine is causing more women of child-bearing age to be vulnerable to the disease, now that they no longer achieve natural immunity during childhood, but also because the vaccine is causing subclinical rubella?

Prior to rubella vaccination, often the only sign that a woman had been infected by rubella was the birth of a CRS baby.  Might widespread rubella vaccination have merely resulted in more undetected rubella and CRS than has previously been the case?  Might there now be among the signs of CRS, conditions like autism and diabetes?   Might we be overlooking the possible connection between conditions like autism and diabetes, precisely because we assume, but don't really test for it, that rubella vaccination results in the prevention of congenital rubella syndrome?

Are we conducting laboratory testing of every infant or child who shows one or more of the numerous symptoms associated with CRS?  If not, isn't it possible that we have been overestimating rubella vaccine's success in eliminating congenital rubella syndrome?  Of even more concern, might rubella vaccine be at least partly responsible for the rising incidence of some CRS-associated conditions, including autism?

Sandy Gottstein

Date: 12-3-2003          

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." - Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), paraphrasing John Philpot Curran (1808)