“Vaccines don’t cause autism, do they?” asked my sister-in-law, as she was strapping her 4-month-old son into his car seat for a doctor’s visit.

“No,” I replied.

“Promise?” she asked.

What could I say to that? No, I can’t promise. No, I have no idea if he’ll end up with autism, or what the cause of autism might be, or what we might learn about it down the road. All I could tell her was my belief that autism and vaccines are unrelated.

But the fact of the matter is that it’s scary to know that there’s this big, bad monster out there that targets little boys, and that we don’t really know the cause. While I do worry that the schedule of vaccines is intense — will we one day find out that clustering too many of them together had unintended health consequences in the long term? — for now I have to trust that the alternative is even more dangerous. Beyond that, there’s not much that an ordinary parent can do other than cross their fingers and hope for the best.

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