January 26, 2016

Are vaccines tied to an increased risk of autism? That’s the question researchers at the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) are working to answer. While scientific research continues, the results of a recent study shows no obvious connection between following a vaccination schedule and brain defects.

The study focused on vaccines containing thimerosal, a chemical designed to protect the vaccine from bacterial contamination. This mercury-based compound, after decades of use, has largely been phased out at the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration because of fears about an overexposure to mercury. However, flu and meningitis vaccines continue to use thimerosal.

“It is of great importance to determine whether childhood vaccines that contain this preservative play a significant role in altering brain development, such as autism,” said lead investigator Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development and affiliate investigator with the WaNPRC.

Using a nonhuman primate model, the study showed no negative side effects such as rocking, self-clasping, or other repetitive behaviors after exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines. In addition, research didn’t identify any noticeable neurochemical distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated test models.

This discovery is good news for advocates of childhood vaccinations, and by connection, for millions of kids  who receive vaccines each year. However, until there is a definite answer, the National Primate Research Centers will continue this research.

Photo credit: Kathy West for the California National Primate Research Center

Back to top