Skeptic Magazine’s eSkeptic has a good article detailing the history of the Vaccine-Autism Manufactroversy.
The article walks you through the three stages of the anti-vaccine argument. We start in England where it was claimed that the MMR vaccine caused autism through the measles virus.
These claims were based on papers by Andrew Wakefield – a man who has been discredited repeatedly, often in public by his own technicians, and many times in writing by those who worked with him.
Even given this, the one flawed, discredited, and wrong paper discussing a link said this: (emphasis mine)
“We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”
The virological studies never came through with the results Wakefield wanted. No one else ever found any data suggesting a link between MMR and and autism. Cases of measles increased 24 fold in London over a ten year period.
The medical world moved on, but Wakefield came to the United States, and so did his ideology.
Next up the world became terrified of thimerosal, a preservative in medicines. This happened in the United States, spawned by an odd occasion: the FDA took thimerosal out of it’s vaccines, not due to actual connections between thimerosal and health problems, but because one day, there might be one. It was entirely a political move; all evidence so far had shown thimerosal to be safe in doses more than 10 thousand times higher than that in childhood vaccines.
The first evidence the public had about even a potential of danger from thimerosal was the announcement of its removal. This did in fact take vaccines off the shelf, people were sickened, children died.
But the thimerosal was out. Anyone claiming a link between the mercury in thimerosal and autism would have to admit – the rate should have plummeted.
But it didn’t. It only went up. Twice vaccines had been blamed for autism. Twice that assertion had been soundly disproven. But who would keep running with a pineapple that had twice turned out to be a hand grenade?
We know the answer: People like Jenny McCarthy, Jay Gordon, Oprah, Jim Carrey, who bring us to the state of the “debate” as it exists today, in the shrill howl of the internet echo chambers, senselessness and confusion.
It is not a climate amenable to rational discussion.
For those of us who see all sorts of people terrified by vaccination, there are a few important things to consider:
The most important point, is of course, to remember that there is no proof that vaccines cause autism – but a few points of interest that would be valid even if they did:
1: The fear of vaccines comes from an intersection of a rational fear and a misperception of chance: There are side effects, and they can be serious. But the chance of side effects is small, and the actual effects much less serious than the consequences of no vaccination at all.
2: The chance of side effects is much smaller than the chance of an ill effect from the car ride to the physicians.
3: Even if every single case of autism was caused by childhood vaccines – every single time – the chance of autism is tiny when compared to the huge number of people vaccinated, and just as small when you look at those who are not.
4: Some people have a strong aversion to any sort of compulsory action. Remind them that vaccines are not technically compulsory – most organizations that used to require them no longer do so, or have methods through which those requirements can be waived.
5: Also remind them: Because of this, not vaccinating carries additional risks – you will not be the only one lacking immunity. This is now rapidly reaching the point where those who are not vaccinated will no longer be protected by herd immunity.
6: Some people are opposed to vaccination due to personal, political or philosophical reasons, not because of a belief in their harm. Good luck convincing them.