Debunking the Link Between Autism & Vaccinations

allergy shotsSteven Stanton ’15
EE Contributor

January 5th, 2015. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) receives a report of a suspected measles case. The victim is a child aged 11, unvaccinated, with a rash onset December 28th. Notable travel history? Disneyland parks in Orange County, California.

January 7th, 2015. In just two days, the CDPH had received a total of seven confirmed measles cases,  all of whom had visited the Disney theme parks from December 17-20.

February 11, 2015. A total of 125 measles cases have been diagnosed with confirmed measles cases. Now with cases in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, it had become bigger than the CDPH. Now it was a concern with the Center for Disease Control (CDC.)

It reads like fiction. A quickly spreading disease for which there is no known cure spreads from state to state, infecting just a lone few, then hundreds, then thousands. The twist is that this isn’t some unknown, incurable illness. It is measles. A disease nearly eradicated from this earth due to the availability of its vaccination is making a comeback. Is it because the vaccination is not effective? No. This epidemic’s rebirth is because parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children.

In 1994 the Vaccines for Children program led to the widespread eradication of measles by the year 2000. Over the past twenty years, these vaccinations have prevented 322 million cases and 732,000 deaths, along with saving $295 billion. Although the majority of cases and deaths prevented are from third world countries, in the United States ten million cases avoided and 10,000 people have been saved from death. Post 1994, the amount of annual infections fell to 60. So 585 cases in 2014 and 158 thus far in 2015 is out of the ordinary. Who’s not vaccinating their children? Who’s telling them not to vaccinate their children?

A well-known British surgeon and researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a highly publicized report that connected autism and vaccines in 1998. In 2010, the British General Medical Council declared his paper to be based on bad science and also a purposeful fraud. For this unethical behavior, he lost his medical licence. But his work, although dishonest, led to a vast reduction in vaccinations and an increase in measles cases as there was a twelve year gap between the paper’s publication and its debunk by the British General Medical Council.

The fraudulent research conducted by Wakefield fueled many statements by celebrities, including Jenny McCarthy. The former Playmate turned anti-vaccination spokesperson had a child who was diagnosed with autism in 2007. She has since been extremely critical of vaccinations, saying on multiple occasions that vaccines that prevent measles, mumps, and rubella are the cause of autism.

On April 1, 2009, McCarthy said, “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f–king measles.” This statement sparked fear into new and expecting parents against vaccinations.

Perhaps the most damaging statement McCarthy said was in a blog post she wrote for Huffington Post titled Who’s Afraid of the Truth about Autism? was, “Almost all kids get — injected toxins — very early in life, and our own government clearly acknowledges vaccines cause brain damage in certain vulnerable kids.”

The blog post contains a plethora of links that are supposed connect the reader to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) reports on links between vaccines and autism. When clicked, however, they do take the reader to a HRSA page but the page does not include any scientific reports, it simply reads “Page Not Found.” In April 2014, McCarthy retracted her comments and claimed she was not anti-vaccine, but it was far too late to reverse the damage that had already been done.

Drastic drops in vaccination rates among parents due to bad science and McCarthy’s comments are what make her a menace to public health to all health professionals from the CDC to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The medical professional field has had to deal with her comments as well as parents citing the fraudulent Wakefield creating a “debate” over autism when to they the debate has already been settled.

When the widespread panic about a link between autism and vaccines occured, the CDC conducted nine extensive studies on any chance of a connection. They zeroed in on thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative added to prevent contamination in multiple dose vials of vaccinations. Even before there were any conclusions of these studies, there was a removal or reduction to trace amounts of all childhood vaccines with the exception of the flu vaccine as a precautionary measure. Those studies, however, found no connection between thimerosal and autism as well as no links between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, the very vaccine McCarthy claims gave her son autism.  

There’s even a website, www.jennymccarthybodycount.com, that has a count of cases and deaths, all of which could be prevented with vaccinations in the western world. The website counts that from June 3, 2007 to May 9, 2015, 149,957 cases and 9,020 deaths could have been prevented.

There are, however, a few things the celebrities and dishonest researchers don’t mention:

When perfectly healthy people who can get vaccinations do get vaccinated, it will keep those with medical conditions safer as they will be at a lesser risk of exposure. There are some reasons for which people cannot get vaccinated due to previous medical conditions, such as cancer. It’s problematic to remain unvaccinated because it puts those who cannot get vaccinated at risk for contracting an additional disease. Not vaccinating young girls in particular puts not only them but also their future children at risk.

Dr. Jennifer Shih,  a pediatric and adult allergist and immunologist at Emory University, saysDuring pregnancy, women who are not vaccinated can be vulnerable to diseases that may complicate their pregnancy. If an unvaccinated pregnant woman contracts rubella, her baby may have congenital rubella syndrome, causing heart defects, developmental delays and deafness.”

The fear and speculation often causes a headache for pediatricians who struggle to convince parents to give their children vaccinations.

Trumbull pediatrician Dr. Georgette Katsetos says, “While we give parents the right to refuse vaccinations, we realize that these parents are putting their children and other children in danger. Therefore, I can’t accept these patients into my practice because I cannot properly assess the diseases these patients have nor can I condone the possibility these unvaccinated patients may endanger others.”

Children who are not vaccinated put themselves as well as others in danger of contracting diseases that should be eradicated. Because of this risk, pediatricians are typically wary of accepting non-vaccinated children into their practices.

Dr. Jennifer Shih says “Vaccines reduce the threat of disease or death by a particular pathogen. Unvaccinated children face challenges when it comes to getting lifesaving care. Every 911 call, doctor appointment, or emergency room visit, you must alert medical personnel of your child’s vaccination status so he receives distinctive treatment. Because unvaccinated children can require treatment that is out of the ordinary, medical staff may be less experienced with the procedures required to appropriately treat your unvaccinated child.”

It’s frightening to consider how people weigh the theoretical “pros” over the factual cons of remaining unvaccinated. Listening to celebrities and fraudulent doctors seems to outweigh the concrete medical evidence for vaccinations put forth to the public by government agencies. It’s easy to have emotions such as fear sweep over the factual evidence while making decisions, especially when those decisions are being made for children. It’s time to stop playing games with such a serious threat. Life is not Disneyland, and measles are not Mickey Mouse.

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