This is one of the most controversial topics concerning parents and the autism community. People have been opting out of vaccinating their children for years now, and it’s starting to catch up with them: there have been six recent cases of the measles in Texas alone. While the decision of whether or not to vaccinate your children is ultimately a personal decision, it has now begun to affect other people very negatively, which makes it a much bigger issue.
After learning more about the vaccine controversy, I realized that I have three main issues with the argument: I think the science behind it is extremely flawed, anti-vaxxers are putting other people in danger, and by arguing so vehemently against the “possible side-effects” of vaccines, people are forgetting why vaccines exist in the first place — to protect against awful and deadly diseases.
How it All Started
The whole thing started in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, wrote a paper that connected MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccines to autism and bowel disorders due to the mercury they contain. However, other researchers were never able to confirm his research, and several investigations were conducted. In a 2004 Sunday Times article, reporter Brian Deer wrote, “Andrew Wakefield. . . stands discredited for misleading his medical colleagues and The Lancet, the professional journal that published his findings.”
An investigation by the British Medical Council (BMC) was conducted in 2010 in which they found many reports of unethical and fraudulent behavior on Wakefield’s part. His paper has since been discredited and he has been removed from the UK Medical Register.
The World Mercury Project / Children’s Health Defense
Whilst all of this was going on, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney, author, and activist, began the World Mercury Project in 1999, though he has no medical or scientific background. The group has since renamed and revamped their mission, and are now a newer, more improved ant-vaccine group. I’m not going to be so bold as to say that everything on the CHD is false, but they do have a legal disclaimer that basically states that they aren’t intended to be used as medical advice. So, there’s that.
About a year ago, when the Children’s Health Defense was still called The World Mercury Project, they stated on their website that “exposure to mercury can give rise to the traits defining or commonly found in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).” However, they’ve since removed that page. Sketchy. Here’s the thing about people who agree with this line of thinking, though. Many early signs of ASD do not present themselves in children until 6-12 months, which is also around the same time that babies get their first round of MMR shots. This also brings up the topic of the recent increase in autism diagnoses. My counter-argument to that is: couldn’t this just be because we are learning more what autism is and what it looks like? The first autism diagnosis was only in the 1940s, after all. We still have a lot to learn.
Two Types of Mercury
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are two types of mercury: methylmercury and ethylmercury. Methylmercury (found in certain kinds of fish) can, with continued high exposure, lead to mercury poisoning. On the other hand, ethylmercury is found in thimerosal, a preservative that is added (in small doses) to vaccines to prevent the growth of microbes. This additive is what is causing everyone to lose their marbles. Interestingly enough, MMR, Varicella, IPV, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines do not (and never did) contain thimerosal (ethylmercury). The preservative was only ever used in flu vaccines, but in 1999, the Public Health Service agencies and the American Academy of Pediatrics decided that they would lower the already small amount of thimerosal used in children’s flu vaccines just to be extra precautionary. In fact, we’ve been getting vaccines with mercury since the 1930s, but it’s only recently that everyone started freaking out about vaccines and autism. However, today, they are available in thimerosal-free versions.
March 2019 MMR Vaccine Study
Scientists are still researching the possible correlation between vaccines and autism, and there was a new study performed in Denmark that was just released on March 4, 2019. In this study, they tested 657, 461 Danish children born from 1999 through 2010. They followed up with the children from age 1 through August 2013. Here’s what they found: “The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination. It adds to previous studies through significant additional statistical power and by addressing hypotheses of susceptible subgroups and clustering of cases.” Also, be sure to check out NPR’s article about this new study.
Okay, So Why Does it Matter?
Even though I do not stand behind the faulty science of this controversy, it’s not the only issue that I have with it. Advocates for this controversy who fighting so hard against vaccines so that their children don’t possibly develop autism don’t realize what a bad name they are giving ASD in the process.
However, let’s say, for argument’s sake, that vaccines do cause autism. Of course, a parent does not want to voluntarily subject their child to something that could alter his or her development in any way, but autism isn’t the worst possible outcome, but many of the diseases that vaccines prevent are.
This is not to mention that some famous and successful autistics (or suspected autistics) include scientist Albert Einstein, sculptor Michelangelo, poet Emily Dickinson, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, CEO Elon Musk, and film director Stanley Kubrick. If it weren’t for these people and their unique minds, our world wouldn’t be the same. So many people do not understand what autism really is, and they are terrified that their child will become mentally impaired/handicapped.
Food For Thought
Something to consider is that everyone was vaccinated without question in the 1950s because they had the fear of diseases like polio and smallpox looming over them. In recent years, we have become much more comfortable and don’t fear diseases as much as we did because we don’t have any first-hand experience of them. We’ve also become so much more suspicious and less trusting of the government and organizations like the CDC and FDA.
I know that this post is biased, but I hope that I’ve at least pleaded my case well and provided you with enough resources so that you can research and decide for yourself.
Have a suggestion for my next post? Let me know here!
- Cardona, C. (2019). Six recent measles cases in Texas include five children. Dallas News. Retrieved from https://www.dallasnews.com/news/public-health/2019/03/06/10-measles-cases-confirmed-texas-2019-exceeding-last-years-total.
- Deer, B. (2004). Revealed: MMR research scandal. The Sunday Times. Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/revealed-mmr-research-scandal-7ncfntn8mjq.
- MMR doctor ‘to face GMC charges.’ (2006). BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5070670.stm.
- Legal Information and Disclaimer. (n.d.). Children’s Health Defense. Retrieved from https://worldmercuryproject.org/about-us/legal/.
- What is autism? (n.d.). Autism Society. Retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/
- Pallardy, R. (2010). Donald Triplett: American autism patient. Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Donald-Triplett
- Thimerosal in vaccines. (2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal/index.html.
- Hviid, A., et al. (2019). Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism: A National Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine. Retrieved from https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2727726/measles-mumps-rubella-vaccination-autism-nationwide-cohort-study