Among the greatest threats to your child’s health are fake news and pseudo-science, a typical example of which is the unfounded claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Not only is this claim false, but it has given rise to an anti-vaccination (or anti-vaxx) movement that is a serious threat to the health of children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, have conducted and reported numerous studies that show that there is no link between vaccines or vaccine ingredients and autism but there is a strong danger of the outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases if people do not get vaccinated.
Fake Science and Fraud
The initial study arguing that there might be a causal link between MMR vaccines and autism was conducted by Andrew Wakefield, who was later struck off the British medical register for ethical misconduct. The study was published in 1998 in the British medical journal, the Lancet. The study focused on a suspiciously small sample of 12 children. Further investigation revealed that the parents of the children and lawyers pursuing a lawsuit against a vaccine manufacturer had paid Wakefield £400,000 to produce the study, a flagrant case of conflict of interest. Although one can sympathize with parents, who on discovering that a child had autism, felt angry and upset and desired to lash out and blame someone, for a doctor to prey on parental guilt and anxiety for profit was unconscionable. The subsequent anti-vaccine hysteria, picked up by celebrities with no scientific training, not only has wasted large amounts of money on studies to refute the MMR-autism link (a link for which there is no evidence), money that could better have been spent developing vaccines for other epidemic diseases, but has also had a negative effect on public health.
Community Immunity and Your Health
The greatest increases in human life expectancy over the past few centuries have been due to three things, vaccination, sanitation, and antibiotics. While these are not the sort of glamorous advances in medical technology that make it on to TV dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, in the developed world, they have eradicated or greatly reduced the incidence of such devastating epidemic diseases such as smallpox, cholera, typhoid, polio, whooping cough, measles, and mumps. This reduction is due to a phenomenon called “herd” or “community” immunity. If enough people in a community are vaccinated, a disease cannot gain traction and spread throughout the region. The anti-vaccination movement endangers this herd immunity and has led to several outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, due to irresponsible anti-vaxxers trying to coast along as “free riders”, thinking that because other people get vaccinated, they will be safe.
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Conclusion: Why You and Your Child Need Vaccination
Before vaccines became common, hundreds of thousands of people, especially children and the elderly, died and millions were hospitalized due to vaccine-preventable disease. Although people with hereditary immune disorders, AIDS or undergoing immunosuppressive therapies cannot be vaccinated, for the overwhelming majority of people, vaccinations are the best way to prevent illness or death from a wide range of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases. Therefore, the MMR vaccine does not cause autism.