How The Big Autism Rise Relates To Black America: 1 In 40 U.S. Children Now Have It, Up From 1 In 91 In 2009

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Some in the Black community believe that vaccinations are related to a rise in autism, and the government is trying to hide it. In this photo, a child receives a malaria vaccine. Photo: Global Panorama / Flickr

New data on autism show that the reported prevalence of the developmental disability in the U.S. rose from one in 91 children in 2009 to one in 40 in 2017, according to survey results published in the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The autism prevalence rate among Black children now exceeds white, a different University of Colorado Boulder study reported. The study found that between birth year 2007 and 2013, autism rates among Black children that age rose 44 percent and rates among whites rose 25 percent.

There’s a point of view in the Black community that vaccinations are related to a rise in autism, and the government is trying to hide it. More and more people are staying away from vaccines, fearing the government isn’t being truthful about a link to autism.

Critics call the anti-vaxxer movement a conspiracy that takes advantage of the current climate of government distrust and the trend toward believing political statements over scientific ones to question vaccine safety.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported declining vaccination rates. Through Sept. 19, 2019, 1,241 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 31 states, the CDC reported.

“We didn’t make great advances in life expectancy and disease elimination without vaccines,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, in a statement by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). “Our members see the disease outbreaks. They see the devastating impact of decisions not to vaccinate. There is no question that their benefits exponentially outweigh any risks.”

The 2016 film “Vaxxed” focused on tainted vaccines, autism and an alleged CDC coverup of research showing links between such vaccines and autism in Black boys. Nation of Islam Student Minister Tony Muhammad went on a national speaking tour with families and producers of “Vaxxed” to raise awareness of concerns linking vaccines and autism in Black children. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. participated in an Atlanta town hall meeting.

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Kennedy has long been condemned as a conspiracy theorist for his views that vaccines cause autism. He wrote in a disputed 2005 Rolling Stone article that the ingredient thimerosal, contained in some vaccines, was dangerous and that the government was hiding its links to autism.

Parents in the American Academy of Pediatrics survey reported that about one in 51 white children had an autism diagnosis in the nine-year study period, compared with 1 in 65 Black children.

The prevalence of autism is higher among white children than Black and Hispanic children, which could reflect systemic biases in autism diagnosis, according to Spectrum News.

If vaccines aren’t contributing to autism prevalence, what is?

The apparent new rise in autism may not reflect true prevalence, experts say. Black children are more likely than white children to lack consistent health records and, as a result, be excluded from prevalence estimates. And Black children are half as likely as white children to be assessed for autism by age 3.

The CDC knew as early as 2001 and had data showing an increased rate of autism diagnoses in Black male schoolchildren in Atlanta who received their first measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine before 36 months of age, compared with those who received it later, Brian Hooker, Ph.D. wrote in the winter 2018 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Hooker reanalyzed the same data set and concluded that the rate of autism diagnosis has increased in the U.S. and is about 25 percent higher in Black children. Thimerosal exposure increased in the early 1990s, Hooker said in a press release. It was removed from most pediatric vaccines by 2001-2004. Hooker suggested the possibility that there may be some interaction between increased mercury exposure and early MMR vaccination.

Anti-vaxxer arguments have broad appeal

Anti-vaxxers have a variety of arguments on social media that cater to different audiences and it’s not all about autism, but they have a few things in common: distrust of physicians and the medical community.

Dr. Brian Primack of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and colleagues analyzed comments of 197 individuals who posted anti-vaxxer sentiment on Facebook. A large majority of commenters were women, and almost 80 percent were parents.

Four overarching themes were:

Trust: They emphasized suspicion about the scientific community, concerns about personal freedom.
Alternatives: They focused on chemicals in vaccines, use of homeopathic remedies over vaccination.
Safety: There were perceived risks and concerns about vaccination being immoral.
Conspiracy: Concern that the government hides information anti-vaxxers believe to be facts.