Vaccination and Autism. How wide spread is this belief?

From my reading it is clear what the scientific consensus on the issue is, but seeing Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey on Larry King the other night perpetuating the myth really made me pause.

How wide spread is this misconception? Could this be a real health problem with parents refusing to vaccinate? And what can be done other than doctors coming out with the truth like they already are?

Unless I’m wrong about the consensus…In which case please enlighten me

The vaccine-autism myth is extremely widespread, and has serious health consequences. IMO the media (and its coverage of science is largely to blame). Detailed (if rather verbose) coverage here from the excellent badscienceblog:

Alright so I guess on a personal level all I can do is point out the misconception every time I hear it, which i did the only time I ever came across it. It would certainly help to have some of these numbers on my side when I do, although I don’t think I’ll really be challenged.

It seems that most people are just going along with something they hear, which is understandable given we all believe all sorts of silly things we hear until we find they are wrong. So my beef isn’t with the masses here, it’s with celebrities who go on TV and use their bully pulpit to spread something that doctors are telling them is very dangerous.

I’m sure I don’t understand the kind of emotion that goes into having an autistic child, I’d want to be an advocate too. But Mrs McCarthy and Mr Carey and especially Larry King are being extremely irresponsible. I understand that they really BELIEVE it…But geeze you’d have to be very emotionally irrational to believe the entire scientific and medical community is in on a massive conspiracy to cover this up.

Their tactics reminded me of every other conspiracy theorist argument. They throw out some random statistics that “sound” reasonable(although they are sometimes conflicting), such as a supposed massive increase in cases of autism, or that the Twin Towers collapsed at an odd angle. But even if true (Big If), these things can’t reasonably but strung together to support the premise that is being advanced.

So seriously, what can we do to stop people from behaving like people when lives are literally on the line?

Related pit thread from last year.

According to this guy (and the people he links to) 152 people have already died, and many thousands have become sick, as a result of the anti-vaccination movement. (That is at the time of this post, of course. The numbers can be expected to increase.)

I am not sure how solid those numbers are, but not just any random person with an opinion gets to blog in the scienceblogs network. I think you have to be invited in order to blog there, and most if not all of the bloggers are actual scientists or professional science writers.

While the celebrities are irresponsible, frustrating idiots, the big problem is that people trust anecdotes, hearsay, and “reasonable” sounding garbage rather than science. I’m sure it’s gotten kids killed already and it’s likely to get worse. It’s absolutely infuriating.

griffin1977, as nearly as I can tell from reading the badscience web site, Mr. Goldacre has given permission for unlimited distribution of the particular chapter, “The Doctor Will Sue You Now” from his book Bad Science. The section of the blog you quoted is not a part of that chapter and I am going to presume that we do not have similar permission to spread it all over the internet. You have already provided a link. Please do not post entire articles on the SDMB.

[ /Modding ]

Private practice pediatrician in a suburban location here.

Maybe about one out of five to ten families in which we at least need to spend some sizable amount of our time debunking myths but who really just feel that they need to hear it from us. Maybe one out of fifteen to twenty who want to do some creative scheduling of vaccines - which inevitably results in some period of insufficient protection which was avoidable. A small handful who want to hold off completely until after two year old or not do some sizable percentage at all. Most of them we eventually reach with persistence but not all.

Yes frustrating.

See now that is exactly the kind of info that I want to hear. Gives me an idea of where society stands on this. I don’t get out much I guess.

Any more pediatricians on the dope?:slight_smile:

Of course the mass movement has hidden - and perhaps not entirely unintended - effects. It takes attention away from the nature of autism and related disorders, and helps type them as childhood conditions whose adult sufferers can be conveniently ignored. Thus saving both the public and private sectors billions in potential accommodations, lawsuits, etc.

Reading these survey results perhaps I should be grateful that my patient population has as few refusers as we have!


I am a huge believer in educating my immune system, and have supported the doctor in making sure the Celtling is fully immunized. Heck, I’d get us both a plague shot if he’d agree to do it! LOL!

But I did do the research when I heard this rumor, and I can see why someone who is unaccustomed to scientific language would be concerned. I also have to say that most of the studies are, in fact, funded by the companies that make the vaccines. So it’s not entirely unreasonable. Just check out this site from the CDC Would that first paragraph reassure you at all?

I also paid extra to get her the flu vaccines without mercury in them. Because injecting mercury into a child, no matter how small a dose, is just plain stupid.

Yes, it would. I’d also be reassured by visiting one or more of the excellent vaccine education sites available on the Internet, learning about the toll taken by preventable infectious diseases before vaccination and the true benefits vs. risks of vaccination (which you won’t hear from the antivaxers and fearmongers).

I think we’re in a period now where so many people are unaware of what these diseases did and the antivax propaganda is so ubiquitous, that vaccination rates will continue to drop until we have at least a few epidemics with serious consequences. Then the pendulum will start to swing in the other direction. It’s a pity that kids will have to die or suffer serious, permanent health consequences for parents to get the message.

Mercury is widespread in the environment, and it’s the dose that decides whether it’s toxic or not. It was probably a reasonable precaution to remove it from vaccines despite the lack of evidence showing it did any harm; in the years since that move, reported autism rates have continued rising or remained stable, providing more evidence that thimerosal-containing vaccines were not at fault. This hasn’t fazed the antivaxers - they’ve mostly moved on to blaming other phantom “toxins” in vaccines.

Stupidity dies hard. Education, persistence, and (sorry to say) the resurgence of epidemic infectious diseases will eventually drop this looniness to a background noise level again.

A couple of addenda:

I should emphasize that the stupidity/looniness aspect applies to antivaxers and their propaganda machines (including spokespeople like Jenny McCarthy) and not the worried parents they target.

Also, you can now get an Anti-Vaccine Body County Widget installed on your website or blog, to keep track of the casualties caused by antivax hysteria.

To me, there are two ‘root causes’ for this bit of modern mythology:
-(1) Unethical jounalists like Edward Kennedy, who write articles with no proff to back them up. The famous article (published in “ROLLING STONE”) led peope to belive that the tiny amount of mercury-based preservatives in vaccines caused autism. NO published study (there have been several) has ever found this to be the case.
(2) the low level of science education in US schools. People do not understand statistics, and do not understand the scientific method. To fall for Knnedy’s trashy article shows that people are unwilling to use their own reasoning.
Its the worldview of dubious publications like "Mother Jones"which sees the world as full of evil corporations, bent on killing people in order to make profits. It is easy to print this rubish, and there are no consequences to doing so.:frowning:

That was actually Robert Kennedy Jr. I’m sure that article was a boost to the anti-vaccine nutjobs, but it’s not like he started it.

That probably contributes, too.

R.F.K. Jr. carries some responsibility for biased and inaccurate “reporting” about autism and vaccines, but when I hear the term “unethical journalist”, David Kirby (author of “Evidence Of Harm”) is the first name that comes to mind.

Jackmannii, of course I’m with you but it is true that the cautious and precise phrasing of these reassurances by the CDC and others does not really communicate the nature of the weight of the evidence that alleged associations have been disproven. It comes off akin to a jury saying “Well, we do not have convincing evidence that he is guilty. But we think that he should be kept off the streets.” rather than saying the more accurate “We are convinced beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt he is not guilty. And think that the prosecution should be punished for fabricating evidence.” TruCelt has a point: most of the American public doesn’t understand the statements made to mean that we have solid evidence that these vaccines play no role in causing autism. They instead hear something like well we don’t think so and another group saying it does and they just split the difference in their heads. (Yeah, they pick a mid point between Jennie McCarthy’s scientific assessments and all of the expert panels of the IOM, the WHO, and the CDC, giving equal weighting to both poles. Or more to Jennie since she looks better, is on Oprah, and states things without any confusing qualifying cautious statements.)

Meanwhile TruCelt this

is a big statement. And I am sure that you think it is true but why do you believe that? Which studies are you referring to? Sure the pre-approval studies are funded by the vaccine makers, just like all medication studies are, but the big studies and reviews done that have proven that the MMR is not associated with autism have been done by the Institute of Medicine (having gone to great lengths to get experts who were in no way able to be thought of as tainted), the WHO, the governments of Denmark, Britain, etc. Not by the companies that make the vaccines. And the data that the diagnosis of autism has continued to increase despite the removal of thimerosal from the standard childhood vaccines is not data created by the companies that make vaccines either.

The allegations that vaccines cause autism are disproved beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt. Some of those making the charges have been shown to have made up their so-called evidence and as a result kids have died. The myths however will not die because the media needs to sell commercial time and fear sells - almost as much as sex.

I have done so on occasion. I only do it with sensible people who are just repeating hearsay - there is no point with the truly ignorant. But then I get the answer “but giving the kiddies so many at one time can’t be good…” and I find I have a hard time disagreeing with that, because honestly, the vaccine schedule does seem a little crazy nowadays.

I tried reading that whole Pit thread - not today, but when it was running - but they never really came to an answer and IIRC just descended into mindless squabbling. I’d really like some more answers to this particular protest.

I’ve also heard this explained as a reflexive need to “present both sides” - as though University of Google grads like Jenny McCarthy deserve equal time with the Institute of Medicine and vaccine experts.

Beyond that, the story line of “concerned parents” battling the cold impersonal forces of Big Pharma and ivory tower scientists has an appeal. And reporters love the conspiracy angle and don’t want to miss out on some big Silkwood-style bombshell. Increasingly though (and the New York Times has been especially good in seeing this early on), more news outlets are beginning to see the battle as being between public health and misguided antivax fearmongers.

Oprah and Larry King are another story. They’ll happily jack up their ratings by presenting Jenny McCarthy over Dr. Paul Offit any day, and so far have not been shamed into presenting an accurate picture of the “controversy”.