Sun | Feb 5, 2023

Vaccines do not cause autism, says clinical intervention specialist

Published:Saturday | April 24, 2021 | 12:20 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
A baby receives a vaccine.
A baby receives a vaccine.


Dr Shannon Worton, assistant director of school-related psychological assessments and clinical interventions at the Florida-based Nova Southeastern University, is dismissing claims that vaccines cause autism.

“There have been some medications that have been linked to increased risk of autism, but what is critical to highlight, especially now during the pandemic, is that vaccines do not cause autism. That is a myth that has been perpetuated for a long time because of a fraudulent research study years ago that created panic that vaccines cause autism,” said Worton, during an online autism seminar held by the Caribbean Autism Support for Education and The Mico University College on Thursday.

“We know now that there is no research to support that idea, so that should not be a fear for us. If it is a fear, we should talk with parents and say that we do not have anything to substantiate that claim,” Worton added.

Widespread scepticism

Her admonition comes at a time when there is widespread scepticism about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, including in Jamaica where 44,642 infections and 752 deaths related to that disease have been recorded to date.

Earlier this month, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced his intention to push back against the anti-vaccination movement, which opposes vaccinations due to concerns about vaccine safety.

Concerning autism, Worton said that risk factors for the disorder include genetic and environmental elements such as multiple births or the age of the parents.

“Autism is genetically-based, and we know that genetic risk can be passed down from parents, even if those parents are not autistic themselves. We also know that, during foetal development, changes in genes and gene mutations can create risks for autism,” said Worton.

“For environmental causes, parental age, particularly paternal age [the age of the father], has been associated with greater risk for autism. We also know that babies who are born prematurely or have low birth weight have an increased risk, or if there are multiple pregnancies such as twins or triplets or pregnancies spaced less than a year apart,” Worton explained.

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour, and is categorised together with Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Asperger’s syndrome as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Symptoms generally appear during the first two years of a patient’s life, and it is estimated that one in 34 boys and one in 144 girls globally will be diagnosed with the disorder.