The belief that vaccines are linked to autism is hurting kids by causing an alarming drop in vaccination rates, according to a report by the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA). Vaccination rates declined by almost 4% among children covered by private insurance, while it actually improved among Medicaid enrollees for DTAP/DT, hepatitis B, HIB, MMR, IPV and pneumococcal conjugate.
NCQA's report also noted that medical societies and federal research agencies reported similar shifts in vaccination rates.
That vaccines are linked to autism has been repeatedly debunked. The peer review paper that raised the connection in 1998 was withdrawn from The Lancet, the researcher was discredited on a long list of alleged misconducts, and he was eventually kicked off England's medical register.
Yet, the NCQA report speculates that the connection between vaccines and autism lingers in public awareness, driven first by media reports before the research was discredited, and since then by celebrity activists who perpetuate the misinformation despite the evidence. The report states, "If this downward trend in vaccination rates in commercial plans persists, an unusual phenomenon may occur. The comparatively well educated or 'high-information' members more typical of commercial plans may endanger their children’s health--and the public’s health--because of their greater access to and overvaluing of misinformation. Medicaid patients may become healthier."
Pediatric vaccines prevent 10.5 million diseases per birth cohort in the U.S. and are a cost-effective preventive measure, the report continues. For every dollar spent on immunizations, as much as $29 can be saved in direct and indirect costs.
As a side note, earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue, to consider whether autistic children can pursue claims through the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, which set up a "vaccine court" that acts as an alternative to litigation against vaccine makers.