Author’s note: I am sick and tired of “experts” and anti-vaccination wackos’ attempts at forcing a non-existing link between the MMR vaccination and autism. If you are one of the aforementioned evangelists of improper childhood care then please keep reading so I can throw a ton of references into your field of view in an attempt educate your sorely misinformed fear.

I originally wrote this article, read it, then re-wrote it as I realized how “mad” I sounded. The lines above were kept as I wanted to convey my personal and extreme frustration with the irresponsible spread of misinformation regarding links to MMR vaccinations and autism. If you are one doubting the saftey and benefits of vaccinations, please read this. A quick legal note: I’m not a doctor – I’m a parent. Always consult your pediatrician or family doctor on proper medical planning for your children.

A friend on Facebook posted an article on the “Six myths about vaccination – and why they are wrong” written by Rachael Dunlop, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. The first myth she debunks? That’s right: vaccines cause autism. She explains that the entire fear campaign that exists today is based on a single publication known as the “Lancet Paper,” authored in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, a Britsh medical researcher. Wakefield suggested the existence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It was later found that much of his research and science were flawed and quite possibly fabricated. It was later revealed that Wakefiled had links to lawyers that were preparing a class-action suit against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine and that he also attempted to apply for a patent for a measles vaccine. These conflicts of interest were too obvious to ignore. Dunlop then noted:

“It eventually unraveled for Wakefield when the paper was retracted in 2010. He was struck from the medical register for behavior classified as “dishonest, unethical and callous” and the British Medical Journal accused him of deliberate fraud.”

Even though this fraud was exposed for what it was, a weight of controversy began snowballing and the damage was done. Wakefield’s paper was so widely published throughout the media that it became “science through press conference,” a term that basically states: “if it’s on the news, then it must be true.”  Once the MMR was acquitted from Wakefield’s  false accusations, other properties and elements of vaccines became targets. For example, thimerosal – a chemical once prominently used in vaccines – was targeted as a cause of autism as it contained mercury. Studies later revealed that there was no link between the additive and autism, but the U.S. government ordered the chemical be removed as a precautionary measure.

My personal view on why “antivaccinationists” are still maintaining non-existent links to vaccines and autism: they need something to blame. It is widely accepted that autism is caused during gestational development – that the causes of autism are most-likely genetically and somewhat environmentally driven. Vaccines are often administered during key milestones in a child’s development, making it appear that vaccines cause autism. It’s the “he-was-fine-before-the-MMR-but-now-has-autism” effect. Parents don’t want to hear that the reason their child has autism is because of their own genetic traits. Parents never want to hear that their child was born with a special need. It’s easy to blame vaccines and “the establishment” in a cloud of controversy, and it may even bring comfort to some.

I can somewhat understand this – when Michaela was diagnosed I had very similar questions and doubts. “Is it my fault? Is it Kelli’s fault? Was it the doctor’s fault? What could we have done differently?” Later, I accepted the answers to those questions as “no, no, no,” and “nothing,” respectively. I decided that my energies were best suited to helping my daughter prepare for a world that’s not very friendly to children with special needs. We created this blog and our Facebook page and Twitter account to help spread the word, share our stores, and provide a digital “therapy session” for our efforts. We found ways to accept and confront the realities of our daughter’s diagnosis and are active in her therapies — therapies that are working.

But some parents cannot do that. Some need to blame something. Why not a vaccine or the ominous medical community and government juggernaut that are forcing those preventative measures upon society?

Discover Magazine published a story in 2009 by Chris Mooney called “Why does the vaccine/autism controversy live on?” Mooney does an excellent job covering this issue from several perspectives. But it boils down the polarization of two opinions: vaccination advocates have research and science to show no link between autism and vaccines therefore the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the cost. But anti-vaccination groups are driven through emotion to stop the perceived danger. I will admit, I am squarely on the pro-vaccination bandwagon and will not budge. But scientific studies often will not sway the emotional response to a parent’s grief of their child’s diagnosis. In fact, dropping a pile of studies in a parent’s lap is a pretty cold response to a parent attempting to process the reality of their child’s special needs. At the end of his article, Mooney quotes CDC scientist Roger Bernier: “The problem is not only research. The problem is trust.

So, are vaccines dangerous?

Let me provide you with some helpful links with summaries so you can decide for yourself:

  • “Autism and Andrew Wakefield” – published by the American Academy of Pediatrics
    This is a basic synopsis of Wakefield’s paper and subsequent crushing of his findings (along with his credibility.) It includes several studies that show no link between vaccines and autism and the AAP continues to advocate strongly that all parents vaccinate their children.
  • “MMR Vaccines and Autism: What Parents Need to Know” – HealthyChildren.org (an information site published by the American Academy of Pediatrics)
    This is a wonderfully comprehensive resource on what parents need to know about autism and vaccines. Again, they strongly recommend that all parents vaccinate their children.
  • “Vaccines and Autism” – published by Autism Speaks
    If there was any organization that was committed to finding the root causes of autism and developing cures and therapies, it’s Autism Speaks. If there were any possibility of a link to vaccines and autism, this organization would be the first to demand action and provide clear and pointed direction on how to fix the issue. Autism Speaks clearly states: “We strongly encourage parents to have their children vaccinated for protection against serious disease. We recognize that some parents still have concerns about vaccines, particularly if they have a child or relative with autism. We urge them to find a health practitioner who will consider their concerns and help them ensure the well-being of their child. Establishing open communication and trust with a physician who understands each child and family is the best strategy for keeping children healthy.”
  • “One Thing We Know About Autism: Vaccines Aren’t To Blame” – National Geographic article by Susan Brink
    Susan Brink does a great job pointing out the aforementioned “snowball” effect of false information. She covers the spread of false data by celebrity autism parent and anti-vaccination evangelist Jenny McCarthy, a favorite actress of mine and a wonderful advocate for autism research, but is dead-wrong on her view of vaccinations.
  • “Does the MMR vaccine put my child at greater risk for autism?” – BabyCenter.com article by Dr. Paul Offit
    Basically, this article says “NO – MMR does not cause autism.”
  • “Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism” – Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
    (added on 1/6/2014 per recommendation from a friend who pointed me to this article.) This is the final report of the IOM on links between MMR, thimerosal and autism. They found no credible link between vaccines and autism and recommended no changes in the current vaccination policy. They also recommend “…that available funding for autism research be channeled to the most promising areas,” which, to me, sounds like a nice way of saying “we need to stop wasting money, time and resources on this ridiculous notion that we are intentionally poisoning our children!”

I know there are many different opinions on the matter. But false information is dangerous. When the autism scare really started to take hold, more parents stopped giving their children vaccinations. We are now seeing a rise in mumps, whooping cough and measles – a rise that has not occurred in decades. Experts directly attribute this to parents not giving their children vaccinations and some go as far to attributing that behavior to the unfounded (and possibly financially motivated) scare of the so-called “vaccination-induced autism.”

Parents: talk to your pediatrician. If they recommend vaccinations, do it. It’s the right thing to do.