This was originally published for another autistic website, now defunct, circa 2013.
Probably one of the greatest banes of my life as an autistic person on the Internet is watching the arguments go round and round over whether you should give your child the MMR vaccine. Maybe you agree with some of those who claim that you shouldn’t because it “might cause autism”. Here at the Autistic Empire, we’d like to share five facts with you that we hope will allow you to make up your mind.
1. The man who came up with the “MMR causes autism” theory has been struck off as a doctor.
Andrew Wakefield, or to give him his full medical title, Andrew Wakefield, published a paper in 1998, claiming they had identified a new syndrome which they called “autistic enterocolitis”, raising the possibility of a link between a novel form of bowel disease, autism, and the MMR vaccine. The authors noted that the parents of eight of the twelve children linked what were described as “behavioural symptoms” with MMR, and reported that the onset of these symptoms began within two weeks of MMR vaccination.
What Mr Wakefield failed to mention was that he had illegally and unethically conducted his research on his child subjects without their parents’ consent, that he had been given £55,000 by one legal group, and £450,000 by another, to find evidence against vaccines, oh, and that he’d frankly just made up a whole bunch of his results. The General Medical Council removed his licence to practice as a doctor in 2010 – he has now moved to America where various interest groups are funding him to continue in his claims.
2. The journal that published his research retracted it and apologised for not checking its numerous errors.
After a decade of scientists attempting to replicate the original study and failing miserably, The Lancet finally admitted in 2010, conveniently just as the GMC ended Mr Wakefield’s career permanently, that they were retracting the paper completely and admitted that it should never have been published because of the numerous errors in the methodology and results. Basically, it was rubbish, but apparently no-one noticed until we’d had numerous measles scares and at least one thirteen year old boy died.
3. Andrew Wakefield stood to make $43 million a year from scaring parents away from the MMR vaccine.
An interesting argument from some anti-vaccine advocates is that Andrew Wakefield, in doing his research, was taking a stand against Big Pharma and highlighting the damage that their quest for profit was wreaking on our nation’s children.
The reality of the situation is that Andrew Wakefield filed a patent without his employer’s knowledge claiming he was working on a single vaccine that would have made £4 million a year if he had succeeded in proving the MMR vaccine was unsafe. He also planned to sell diagnostic kits that he estimated would make him $43 million a year trying to diagnose “autistic enterocolitis”, an illness that doesn’t exist.
The reality is that Andrew Wakefield wasn’t taking a stand against Big Pharma – he is Big Pharma, who used his status as a scientist to prey on the anxiety of parents to put their own children at risk of an infectious and deadly disease so he could make millions of dollars.
4. Measles kills 158,000 people a year – mainly in areas that don’t have universal vaccinations.
The government does not generally like to just hand out free stuff – they do it when there is a compelling reason that that free stuff stands to have an immediate, measurable and dramatic impact on the public well-being. In Ireland, vaccination was introduced in 1985. There were 99,903 cases of measles that year. Within two years, the number of cases had fallen to 201. That is a serious public health benefit.
However, some people cannot be vaccinated – because they are allergic, because they are too sick, and other reasons. Those people are reliant on the “herd immunity” of the rest of us to ensure they stay safe; about 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks of disease. After the MMR vaccine controversy, that level dropped to just 78% in some age groups – who are most at risk of contracting measles now. In 2013, there was an outbreak of measles in Swansea, Wales: 1,000 people, mainly under 18s, caught measles, 100 were hospitalised and one 25 year old died. Of those who have become sick, the vast majority have been unvaccinated.
If you choose to refuse to have your children vaccinated, you are not only putting them at risk of a disease that stills kills 430 people a day worldwide, you are putting other people’s children at risk who have no choice over whether they can be vaccinated or not.
5. The MMR VACCINE DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM AND EVEN IF IT DID THAT WOULD BE BETTER FOR YOUR CHILD THAN DYING FROM MEASLES, MUMPS OR RUBELLA.
…just to be really clear about that. There’s nothing wrong with being autistic. It’s a lot more fun than being dead, I’m guessing.