Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism by Peter J. Hotez, MD/PhD (Nonfiction/Medical Book, 2018).
Dr. Hotez’s third published book combines the deeply personal story of his experiences as the father of a child with autism and his equally intimate and detailed knowledge of both vaccine science and what’s now known about what does (and does not) cause autism. As a scientist whose research focuses on developing vaccines against an array of devastating tropical diseases that overwhelmingly effect the world’s poor, and as one both capable and willing to inform others in terms understandable to the general public, his viewpoint is by equal degrees credible and vitally important.
The chapters recounting the personal history of the struggles, joys and heartbreaks of the doctor, his wife and family are deeply moving. The love they all feel for the now-young adult Rachel is apparent. But Hotez and his wife pull no punches regarding the challenges and frustrations they face in providing for a child profoundly disabled in both social and intellectual terms.
It’s also worth noting that the author made sure that, to the best of her ability, Rachel herself understands and approves of his telling personal details of her life. In fact, she is eager for readers to know her story.
In a different yet related way, the chapters where Hotez outlines the ongoing history of vaccination and the opposition it faces is also very personal to the author. He systematically takes on each of the arguments of the anti-vaccine movements and shows clearly the flawed thinking and sometimes outright lies behind each of them. As Hotez details, vaccination against serious diseases has saved literally millions of lives. Also, while side effects happen, they are almost always mild. On the extremely rare occasions that such problems do occur, they are addressed quickly by an agency specifically tasked with that important job. And in any case, autism is NOT one of those side effects.
As study after study has shown, children receiving vaccines are no more likely to have autism than children who aren’t vaccinated. The one study that supposedly showed a connection was itself a fraud. Period.
And the fact is that all that is known from actual research indicates that autism has its roots in genetics. A chain of events involving 65 known genes (and likely very many more that are yet to be identified), as well as how those genes are expressed and interact is seen as the main causative factors. There is, as Hotez explains, also a number of environmental factors that are either known or suspected to contribute to the very complex and varied symptoms suffered by those on the Autism Spectrum. Those factors all involve exposures that take place before birth, and again, have nothing to do with vaccines. And yes, that includes the children of women who received vaccinations while they were pregnant.
He also notes that, while beginning as prenatal changes and abnormalities in parts of the brain, some of the classic outward symptoms only fully manifest themselves at the same age range when children usually start getting vaccine shots. This explains the understandable but mistaken belief of some parents that they “became autistic” soon after getting shots.
Hotez is also understandably passionate in pointing out that the anti-vaccine movement takes attention (not to mention energy and money) that could and should be focused on actually helping people on the Autism Spectrum and their families/caregivers/etc.
This is a well-reasoned and reasonable book; a well-structured and convincing defense of true science in the age of fake news and rampant pseudoscience.