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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Vaccines save children’s lives

The persistent myth that immunisation causes autism is putting us all at risk
A Yemeni child is inoculated against polio during an immunisation campaign at a health centre in Sanaa. (Mohammed Huwait/AFP)
A Yemeni child is inoculated against polio during an immunisation campaign at a health centre in Sanaa. (Mohammed Huwait/AFP)

Reports that an increasing number of parents are refusing to have their children immunised against deadly diseases should be cause for great concern. At the heart of the problem is the misguided belief that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is given to infants in two doses at the age of 15 months and 6 years, causes autism.

Any connection between vaccination and autism is coincidental. In children with autism, the symptoms begin to show about that same time as many children have their vaccination. An article published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998 misinterpreted this phenomenon, leading to the persistent but erroneous belief that there is a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. Study after study since, including comprehensive research undertaken in Denmark and the United States, has debunked the article and determined that the MMR vaccine is safe.

One does not have to look far from home to understand the overwhelming worth of childhood vaccinations. Polio has been eradicated in most of the world, and is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the battle is slowly but surely being won through the tireless efforts of vaccination workers funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with support from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The MMR vaccine saves lives – but it will safeguard a population only if the majority of children are immunised. Parents who decide against immunisation not only endanger their own children, they put their entire community at risk. And by giving oxygen to anti-vaccination campaigns, they are inhibiting genuine medical research.

To be sure, there must be more research into the effectiveness and possible side-effects of vaccines, just as there must be research into the causes of and treatments for autism. But denying a child a potentially life-saving inoculation based on flawed evidence is a selfish act that can do great harm.