The vaccine-autism controversy has been brewing ever since Andrew Wakefield published his infamous 1998 paper in The Lancet. Fourteen years later, the study has been retracted and scientists have had no luck finding a legitimate link between childhood vaccinations and autism. Yet, the debate rages on.
Why does over 20 percent of the population still think that vaccines cause autism? And what happens when parents act on their fears, refusing to inoculate their own children against dangerous diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella?
JENNY MCCARTHY: Evan was diagnosed with autism in 2005. Without a doubt in my mind, I believe vaccinations triggered Evan’s autism.
SETH MNOOKIN: Vaccines do not cause autism.
CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone, Cara Santa Maria here. And that’s Seth Mnookin. He’s a lecturer in MIT’s graduate program in science writing and the author of “The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy.” I asked Seth to chat with me about why this is still a controversial subject, even though there’s not a shred of legitimate evidence linking vaccines with autism. First, we talked about Andrew Wakefield, author of the infamous 1998 paper published in The Lancet, which described 12 children who showed symptoms of autism sometime after receiving a vaccine to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella infection.
SM: It was an atrocious paper, it was called, almost the minute it was published, the worst paper The Lancet has ever published. And we’ve since learned a lot of things that were wrong that we didn’t even know at the time in 1998, like the fact that Wakefield was receiving research money from a law firm that was working with parents who were interested in suing vaccine manufacturers, like the fact that Wakefield had taken out a patent for an alternative measles vaccine several months before the paper was published. But what I think is kind of interesting is, forget all of that, it’s insane to make population-wide conclusions on a 12-person case series. And you know sometimes if I’m talking to a group of people and this comes up, I’ll count off 12 people and say, ‘and based on that case series I’m going to go ahead and conclude that population is 90 percent female or everyone is over the age of 50,’ or whatever.
CSM: The media played a large role in spreading misinformation about vaccines and autism following the publication of Wakefield’s study. Although The Lancet officially retracted the paper in 2010, the controversy still persists to this day. In fact, just last year, 21.4 percent of respondents in the Thomson-Reuters NPR Health Poll said they believe that vaccines can cause autism. It doesn’t help that well-known figures like Jenny McCarthy continue to spread anti-vaccine rhetoric. There’s even a website called JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com. It claims that even though she’s not directly responsible for the thousands of preventable illnesses and hundreds of preventable deaths since 2007, if her campaign against vaccination caused even one preventable death, that’s one too many.
SM: Once you introduce misinformation into a society, it then lives on its own. And, it’s, as we’ve seen with vaccines, it’s impossible to unscare someone. Once an idea is planted in your mind, especially about your children, you can’t just then sort of wipe the board clean, ‘oh it turns out that actually ignore everything we were saying.’
CSM: But we have to learn to wipe the board clean, because there’s no scientific evidence linking vaccines with autism. None. If I left dinner last night and it started to rain, would I avoid that restaurant in the future, fearing that every time I ate there, it would influence the weather? Of course not! Autism symptoms commonly appear in children soon after they’re old enough to get vaccinated. This doesn’t mean they’re connected. And those who refuse to see this may be less likely to vaccinate their own children, putting them at risk of infection. And if their kids don’t get sick, sometimes they see this as proof positive that vaccines aren’t necessary. But what they don’t know is that the reason their kids aren’t getting sick is because all the kids around them are vaccinated. It’s called herd immunity, but it’s only so effective.
SM: I compared it once to like a herd of buffalo, kind of encircling their weakest members to ensure that they don’t get picked off by predators. So when you have enough members of a population protected or who have immunity against a given disease, that disease can’t get a toehold in the community. So you know take measles, which has a 90 percent infection rate, and if you were in a community where there was 95 percent immunity and then you had a traveler from Africa or Europe come over infected with measles, there would be a good chance that you could contain that because it’s going to be hard for measles to spread from person to person because there just aren’t those vectors.
JM: Take a look around. I believe science was wrong yet again. [cheering]
CSM: Do you know someone who still sees a link between vaccines and autism, even though no link exists? Reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or leave your comments … on The Huffington Post. Come on, Talk Nerdy To Me!
via The Huffington Post
- ABC’s ‘The View’ gives Jenny McCarthy a platform for crackpot autism theories (illuminutti.com)
- The Benefits Of Vaccines (illuminutti.com)
- MIT professor: ABC’s The View legitimatizing dangerous unscientific autism claims (rawstory.com)
- Backlash over Jenny McCarthy’s ‘View’ on vaccines (thelead.blogs.cnn.com)
- Toronto Public Health is right to defend vaccination: Editorial (thestar.com)
- Jenny McCarthy’s disturbing views on autism: Editorial (nj.com)
- Fifteen Years After Autism Panic, a Plague of Measles Erupts (junkscience.com)
- The Price Of The Autism-Measles Panic, 15 Years Later (forbes.com)
via The Soap Box
The anti-vaccination movement is a large group of like minded people whom believe that vaccines cause autism (along with some other stuff, but mostly autism). While there are a lot of things I’ve noticed about this movement, I’ve managed to narrow it down to five.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about the anti-vaccination movement:
5. There’s no need for it to exist.
If you are part of the anti-vaccination movement, then you are in a movement that does not need to exist, and in fact shouldn’t exist.
Every claim made about vaccines being harmful and causing debilitating neurological conditions (most commonly autism) has been proven to be false, and vaccines have been proven to be not only the cheapest method of disease control and prevention, but also the best, and the safest.
Complications from vaccines are rare (around maybe 1 and 1000) and mostly minor. Serious complications are extremely rare (around 1 to 2 per million), and deaths are even rarer than that.
4. It’s biggest supporters are a bunch of cranks.
The biggest supporters (and leaders) of the anti-vaccination are not only people who should not be giving out medical advice, most of them aren’t even doctors (and the ones that are tend to have some questionable credentials).
Andrew Wakefield, the ex-doctor whom’s 1998 research paper that was published in the Lancet that claimed to show a connection between vaccines and autism, was stuck off of the British General Medical Council register (the British equivalent of having your medical license revoked) after the Lancet retracted his paper after it was proven his research was based off of fraud. He still claims his research was not fraudulent, and that there was a conspiracy against him to destroy his research (despite the fact that it took over ten years from the time his paper was published for his paper to be retracted, and for the GMC to strike off his name).
Then there is Alex Jones, who thinks that vaccines are being used to create genetically modified people and causes diseases, not prevent them.
3. The movement is based off of lies.
The whole bases for the anti-vaccine movement is based off of the proven fraudulent 1998 research paper by Andrew Wakefield that claims there is a connection between the MMR vaccines and austim. The paper was highly controversial even when it came out, and the claims made in it had been dis-proven years before it was formally retracted for fraud.
Other lies made by the movement are that vaccines have been made more dangerous over the years (in fact they have been made safer) and that and the rates of autism in children who are un-vaccinated is far lower then those that have been vaccinated, which is false. In fact the rates are the same.
Here is an infographic that shows the rate of incidence of a disease appearing with and without a vaccine. Here is the source of the data.
- Celebrities Endorsing Stupid Things: (like) The Anti-Vaccination Movement (illuminutti.com)
- The vaccine debate (duckduckgrayduck.com)
- Vaccines and Jenny McCarthy: the Oprah mea culpa interview doctors want to see (drjengunter.wordpress.com)
- Anti-vaccination campaigns is a major threat to WHO hopes to eradicate measles (doubtfulnews.com)
- Grieving parents speak out against anti-vaccination extremists (richarddawkins.net)
- Measles in the UK (randi.org)
- The anti-vaccination fraud: Health officials forced to get tough as once-dormant diseases returning (news.nationalpost.com)
- JENNY MCCARTHY, MASS MURDERER: Grieving parents speak out against anti-vaccination extremists. A… (pjmedia.com)
My skeptical radar is activated each time I hear a celebrity endorse a product or promote a cause. While generally harmless, celebrities have such large audiences that they have the ability to broadcast their message to a large number of people, and can impact their decisions.
Celebrity endorsements in sports, for example, will take a famous athlete, put their name on a box/bottle, and try to catch the consumer’s eye. For substantial amounts of cash, they will lend their name to a product that they may or may not even use, and which may or may not have some benefit to the consumer.
I am concerned, however, when celebrities endorse and promote something that has an obvious negative impact to an individual or to a group of individuals, and when they claim they know the “truth” or “they are the experts” (as if there is some sort of conspiracy and only they have access to the real information).
Case and point, Jenny McCarthy.
Jenny has sipped the antivax Kool Aid, and now spreads her gospel across any media that will let her. She is a strong believer that autism is a direct result from vaccines. I will not spend any time debunking this myth, as it has been covered in countless articles and science journals, but I will review the common misconception surrounding vaccines, and the impact of these misconceptions.
You can make an argument that vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical discovery (smallpox alone has killed approximately 500 million people, until its vaccine was developed), and research shows no evidence to indicate a link between vaccines and autism. No matter which evidence or advantage is put forward, the antivax movement will not change their opinion (sure, maybe there are some, but the big names, like Jenny, won’t). Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study on autism and vaccines* has been formally retracted by the Lancet. Surely, this would sway Jenny’s to the rational side? No, Wakefield is being treated as a martyr.
The fact of the matter is, Jenny McCarthy is not helping people. She is jeopardizing the lives of children: vaccinated, and not. When the general population loses herd immunity, then very young kids (babies), who aren’t old enough to take certain vaccines, are at risk.
Phil Plait, says it best on his blog, Bad Astronomy:
“If you think Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and the rest of the ignorant antiscience antivax people are right, then read this story. I dare you. David McCaffery writes about his daughter, Dana, who was four weeks old when she died. Too young to get vaccinated herself, she contracted whooping cough because vaccination rates in that part of Australia are too low to provide herd immunity. This poor little girl died in her father’s arms, and the blame rests squarely on the antivaccination movement.”
MORE . . .
Andrew Wakefield’s delusions have expanded to the point where he will go down as one of the most notorious cranks in medical history. In a rambling interview with the illustrious Mike Adams of NaturalNews, Wakefield says all the great thinkers of medical history are ignored in their lifetime. Many are eventually recognized for their brilliance, but some (and I suspect Wakefield is one of these) are never recognized.
Wakefield, as you may remember, first made a name for himself at a press conference prior to the publication of what should have been a widely ignored article on an observational study of twelve children involving a possible connection between bowel disorders and developmental disorders. The paper had nothing to do with vaccine safety. At the press conference on 26 February 1998 to promote the paper (published 28 February 1998), Wakefield shocked his colleagues by using the occasion to suggest that the MMR vaccine, in use in the United States since the early 1970s and in Great Britain for a decade, could be responsible for the rising rates of autism. He speculated about “some children” having especially sensitive immune systems that made them unable to handle the three vaccines at once. He made further speculations about autism and asserted that he could no longer “support the continued use of the three vaccines given together.” We now know that he was hoping to cash in on a patent for a single shot measles vaccine. He was then, and continues now, to just make stuff up.
MORE . . .
Many people believe that childhood MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations are linked to childhood autism, and that the link was covered up by the government and medical establishment. The vaccine-autism link claim was originally made by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and published in a small 1998 case report. The British General Medical Council found he had acted unethically in his research, and his paper, which was championed by celebrities including Jenny McCarthy, was retracted. The vaccine-autism link has been completely discredited in follow-up studies and research.
- Vaccines and Jenny McCarthy: the Oprah mea culpa interview doctors want to see (drjengunter.wordpress.com)
- On Ignorance: The Anti-Vaccine Movement – Don’t come cryin’ to me when your child has whooping cough, or rubella, or polio, or some other “outdated” disease you were too ignorant to vaccinate against. (michiganjournal.org)
- Medical Myths: When Urban Legends Kill (livescience.com)