Turning an anti-vaccine argument on its head: How the Rubella vaccine helps prevent autism

November 4, 2014

Autism, Vaccination

The Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine

The Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine

By Joseph Lachman, Published 11/4/2014

Here is an interesting argument to present to opponents of vaccines: Preventing rubella (also known as German Measles) in pregnant women has saved thousands of children from contracting congenital rubella, which can cause autism.

All too often, scientists and medical experts find themselves having to correct misleading or incorrect statements by celebrities and politicians, such as Jim CarreyRob Schneider, and Michelle Bachmann. However, one argument that has not been widely considered is how vaccines have actually helped prevent hundreds if not thousands of cases of autism.

First of all, Centers for Disease Control data shows how effective the MMR vaccine has been for reducing the number of Rubella cases:

Screenshot 2014-11-04 11.35.19

(Source: CDC Report: Documentation and Verification of Measles, Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Region of the Americas)

While the disease is not particularly threatening for most adults, it is of higher concern for pregnant women, because of the potential for a fetus to contract rubella during gestation. This can result in a variety of birth defects, including damage to the developing fetal brain.

In 1971, Dr. Stella Chess of the New York University Health Center published a study in the Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia that analyzed the effects of congenital rubella on 243 children; 10 were found to have autism, with a further 8 showing partial symptoms of autism and so Dr. Chess’s study found a compelling connection between congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). With the modern expanded definition of autism, the number may have actually been underestimated by modern standards.

More recently, Dr. Brynn E Berger, Dr. Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, and Dr. Saad B Omer published a study on BMC Public Health that estimates the number of cases of congenital rubella and autism prevented by vaccination from 2001 to 2010.

Their data show that the Rubella vaccine prevented over 16,000 cases of CSR, and consequently prevented over 1200 cases of ASD.

Furthermore, these are conservative estimates. Using recently expanded criteria for autism, their study shows evidence that over 6000 cases of ASD were prevented thanks to the Rubella vaccine.

Preventative medicine often goes under-appreciated in comparison to curative medicine, when a person fails to become ill, it is difficult to prove whether or not preventative medicine was the thing that saved them. However, through a combination of these sources, we can begin to imagine what our lives would be like without them. Consider raising this point whenever someone tells you to avoid the MMR vaccine.

(All articles on this site written and researched by Joseph Lachman)

For those interested in looking additional studies: (May require special access for medical journals)

Atladóttir HO, P Thorsen, L Østergaard, DE Schendel, S Lemcke, M Abdallah, and ET Parner. 2010. “Maternal infection requiring hospitalization during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorders”. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 40 (12): 1423-30.

Chess S. 1971. “Autism in children with congenital rubella”. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia. 1 (1).

Chess S. 1977. “Follow-up report on autism in congenital rubella”. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia. 7 (1): 69-81.

Cooper LZ, and S Krugman. 1967. “Clinical manifestations of postnatal and congenital rubella”. Archives of Ophthalmology. 77 (4): 434-9.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

View all posts by jslachman381


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One Comment on “Turning an anti-vaccine argument on its head: How the Rubella vaccine helps prevent autism”

  1. D Lachman Says:

    Well researched and constructed article
    Thank you for using credible facts and data to support your conclusions



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