ABSTRACT: Vaccinations have prevented millions of infectious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths among U.S. children, yet the long-term health outcomes of the vaccination schedule remain uncertain. Studies have been recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine to address this question. This study aimed 1) to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children on a broad range of health outcomes, and 2) to determine whether an association found between vaccination and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD), if any, remained significant after adjustment for other measured factors. A cross-sectional study of mothers of children educated at home was carried out in collaboration with homeschool organizations in four U.S. states: Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oregon. Mothers were asked to complete an anonymous online questionnaire on their 6- to 12-year-old biological children with respect to pregnancy-related factors, birth history, vaccinations, physician-diagnosed illnesses, medications used, and health services. NDD, a derived diagnostic measure, was defined as having one or more of the following three closely-related diagnoses: a learning disability, Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. A convenience sample of 666 children was obtained, of which 261 (39%) were unvaccinated. The vaccinated were less likely than the unvaccinated to have been diagnosed with chickenpox and pertussis, but more likely to have been diagnosed with pneumonia, otitis media, allergies and NDD. After adjustment, vaccination, male gender, and preterm birth remained significantly associated with NDD. However, in a final adjusted model with interaction, vaccination but not preterm birth remained associated with NDD, while the interaction of preterm birth and vaccination was associated with a 6.6-fold increased odds of NDD (95% CI: 2.8, 15.5). In conclusion, vaccinated homeschool children were found to have a higher rate of allergies and NDD than unvaccinated homeschool children. While vaccination remained significantly associated with NDD after controlling for other factors, preterm birth coupled with vaccination was associated with an apparent synergistic increase in the odds of NDD. Further research involving larger, independent samples and stronger research designs is needed to verify and understand these unexpected findings in order to optimize the impact of vaccines on children’s health.
ABSTRACT: From about 8% to 27% of extremely preterm infants develop symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, but the causes are not well understood. Preterm infants receive the same doses of the recommended vaccines and on the same schedule as term infants. The possible role of vaccination in neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) among premature infants is unknown, in part because pre-licensure clinical trials of pediatric vaccines have excluded ex-preterm infants. This paper explores the association between preterm birth, vaccination and NDD, based on a secondary analysis of data from an anonymous survey of mothers, comparing the birth history and health outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated homeschool children 6 to 12 years of age. A convenience sample of 666 children was obtained, of which 261 (39%) were unvaccinated, 7.5% had an NDD (defined as a learning disability, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder), and 7.7% were born preterm. No association was found between preterm birth and NDD in the absence of vaccination, but vaccination was significantly associated with NDD in children born at term (OR 2.7, 95% CI: 1.2, 6.0). However, vaccination coupled with preterm birth was associated with increasing odds of NDD, ranging from 5.4 (95% CI: 2.5, 11.9) compared to vaccinated but non-preterm children, to 14.5 (95% CI: 5.4, 38.7) compared to children who were neither preterm nor vaccinated. The results of this pilot study suggest clues to the epidemiology and causation of NDD but question the safety of current vaccination practices for preterm infants. Further research is needed to validate and investigate these associations in order to optimize the impact of vaccines on children’s health.