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Do vaccines cause autism?

Updated April 09, 2024

Autism and Vaccines

The debate about whether vaccines can cause regressive autism began in 1985 with the publishing of the landmark book DPT: A Shot in the Dark by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher. Among the more than 100 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine induced brain inflammation and immune system dysfunction detailed in the book were children who had developed regressive autism after suffering a brain inflammation and encephalopathy following receipt of whole cell pertussis vaccine in DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) shots.

When Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which created a federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), the first awards for vaccine injury and death were given to children who had suffered a brain inflammation/encephalopathy after DPT vaccination and died or were left with a variety of brain and immune system problems such as medication resistant seizures, mental retardation, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD and other developmental delays.

Autism and Vaccine Injury Compensation

Since then, federal compensation has been awarded to children who developed brain inflammation/encephalopathy after DPT or the acellular pertussis vaccine containing DTaP vaccination, and whose permanent disabilities include symptoms of autism. In 2008, the federal government conceded1 2 that a young girl who had received multiple vaccines in one day, including DTaP,3 and regressed into autism was entitled to compensation for her injuries that included a metabolic dysfunction.

Vaccine-induced autism continues to be of concern to the public, as the prevalence of autism in U.S. children has climbed from one child in 150 children in 2000 to 1 child in 36 in 2023. In 2011, a public health law research paper by attorney Mary Holland et al entitled Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program4 conducted a review of vaccine injury cases awarded federal compensation.  The paper found that out of 2,500 vaccine injury claims since the program’s establishment in 1989, 83 cases acknowledged vaccine-induced brain damage, including autism, which had been compensated through the VICP during a period of over 20 years.

Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, a former expert witness in the VICP, stated in a 2018 affidavit5 that the expert testimony he provided to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the 2007 VICP Omnibus Autism Proceeding (OAP) was case-specific and had been taken out of context and misapplied to other cases by the DOJ. He also stated that there are instances where vaccination could cause autism. The affidavit also noted that Dr. Zimmerman had provided this information to the Department of Justice's lead attorney during the OAP.

Rolf Hazelhurst, an attorney and the father of a son with autism denied compensation by the VICP during the OAP, filed a motion in the federal court in 2024 alleging that the Department of Justice repeatedly committed fraud by concealing and misrepresenting information presented to the special masters during the omnibus hearing, during which the claims of more than 5,000 children with autism were bundled into one group and three biological mechanisms for vaccine injury were alleged to have caused the children’s symptoms of autism following (1) thimerosal containing vaccines; (2) MMR vaccine; and (3) MMR plus thimerosal containing vaccines.  Special masters appointed by the U.S. Court of Claims, who determine vaccine injury compensation cases in the VICP, adjudicated “test” cases in the OAP. A recent article on the Hazelhurst motion stated that even today the special masters continue to apply the Zimmerman opinion in their compensation decisions.6

Biomedical Autism Treatment and Recovery History

In 1990, NVIC was contacted by California mother, Cindy Goldenberg, who explained how her bright, healthy son became autistic following his MMR vaccine. Following many visits to different doctors in her attempt to find out what had happened to her son, multiple tests were performed to evaluate his immune function. The results revealed a high antibody count for the rubella vaccine. After conducting research into the connection between rubella infection and autism, she contacted an immunologist, and they put together a biomedical protocol to address his immune dysfunction, which resulted in her son recovering from autism.

Since 1990, a growing number of physicians have acknowledged that the development of regressive autism involves a number of genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors and potential biological mechanisms related to brain and immune dysfunction that have yet to be fully understood due to gaps in scientific research, including vaccine safety research. The biological causes for and prevention and treatment of autism is a field that continues to evolve.

What has become clear since the autism-vaccine connection was first reported in 1985 is that many children with regressive autism are getting better from biomedical and holistic health approaches to healing brain and immune system dysfunction. There are several autism support groups and resources founded by parents since the late 1990s dedicated to helping families with children with autism.

Children with autism have educational, behavioral, and medical challenges that may be modified or eliminated with individualized interventions. It is important to consult qualified health care professionals familiar with regressive autism and vaccines. Autism groups providing information about regressive autism can be found on our resources page.

Reporting Autism Related Vaccine Reactions

If you suspect that your child's autism or developmental delays are related to a vaccine or combination of vaccines, it is very important that you report this information to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Federal law also requires that doctors report any serious problem within 30 days following vaccination.

You can also file a vaccine reaction report with NVIC's Vaccine Reaction Registry, which NVIC has operated since 1982. Information about vaccine reactions can help discover why some children develop health problems following vaccination and others do not. Click here to learn more about how to report a reaction to VAERS and NVIC’s Vaccine Reaction Registry.


1 Attkisson S. Vaccine Case: An Exception Or A Precedent? CBS News Mar. 6, 2008.

2 Wallis C. Case Study: Autism and Vaccines. Time Mar 10, 2008.

3 U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Redacted Finding of Entitlement; Damages Decision Based on Proffer. Internet Archive Wayback Machine Aug. 4, 2012.

4 Holland M, Conte L, Krakow R, et al. Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury. Pace Environmental Law Review May 23, 2011; Vol. 28 No 2 pgs 11-24.

5 Zimmerman AW. Affidavit Re: OAP Expert Opinion. Sept. 7, 2018.

6 Baletti B. ‘Shocking Cover-up’: DOJ Lawyers Committed Fraud in Vaccine Injury Case, CHD Attorney Alleges in Motion Filed Today. Children’s Health Defense Apr. 2, 2024.

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