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Worries About Autism Link Still Hang Over Vaccines

Posted Sep 29 2011 8:50pm

A story just out from National Public Radio in the United States: Worries About Autism Link Still Hang Over Vaccines . Part of the survey on how the public views vaccines was a question on autism:

Do you believe any of the following are linked to vaccines?
1. Autism
2. Cancer
3. Diabetes
4. Heart disease

The answer: about 21% of Americans say yes to the autism/vaccine link.

The highest levels of “yes” were in those aged 35 to 64, with middle-income status, some college education and who have children.

About 1/4 said their opinions of vaccine had changed in the last 5 years, with about 60% of those responding that their opinions had changed for the worse.

Of the main reasons cited for vaccine fear, autism was the top. By far.

21.4% of respondents said they believe vaccines can cause of autism, 9.2% said they believe vaccines can be
linked to cancer, 6.9% believe they play a role in diabetes, and 5.9% cite a connection between vaccines and
heart disease.

Is this because there is actual evidence, or because of a vocal campaign to put the message of a vaccine/autism link into the public mindset? Well, since there is no convincing evidence of an autism/vaccine link (and a lot of evidence against the primary theories: mercury and MMR) I’d go with the media campaign as the reason this idea still has traction with the public.

And I’m not alone, at least in thinking that the effort of some vocal members of the autism community have had an impact. Last time such a survey came out, it was trumpeted by some of the more vocal sections of the autism-parent community, with :

With less than a half-dozen full-time activists, annual budgets of six figures or less, and umpteen thousand courageous, undaunted, and selfless volunteer parents, our community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.

What was even more disturbing than those words were the conclusion of the article:

...mark my words, the results from the next survey will show that the trust continues to erode. Keep fighting, parents, America is really listening.

Yep, Keep fighting. Not to get the message out, but to erode trust in public health. The message seems to have morphed over the years. From informing the public of an idea (albeit unsupported by good data) to one of fear. As we can see from the NPR/Reuters survey, the idea that vaccines and autism are linked is still out there.

We saw a form of this idea surface recently when Michelle Bachmann recently made comments linking the HPV vaccine and mental retardation. I sent an email to the National Vaccine Information Center asking about the Bachmann claim. Here is the response I received:

Sorry to just be getting back to you but we have been inundated with emails about Michelle Bachmann.There’s no information to support her claim and now she has withdrawn it.

I chose the NVIC for this inquiry because they are an organization which I believe has rather lax standards on proof of vaccine injury. If anyone were going to support Ms. Bachmann’s claims, it would be the NVIC. The fact is that even they see this as an unsupportable comment.

But to bring this back to the NPR survey: yes, there are concerns about vaccines in the American public. Concerns are one thing. We should all be concerned about such an important part of the public health system. Fears. That’s another thing. Unfounded fears. Discounted fears. That is yet something else. And we are at the point where unfounded fears and disproved fears are still promoted, largely by autism parents. And that is why autism parents like myself feel the need to counter the misinformation. Because these fears have consequences:

As parents fret, vaccination rates for kids have dipped. Childhood vaccination rates against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), for instance, fell almost 3 percentage points to 90.6 percent in 2009 from the year before, according to data from private insurers.

As vaccine rates drop, the risks to us all, and infants in particular, rise. In the words of Simon Murch, colleague of Andrew Wakefield in the now-retracted Lancet study which fueled the modern fears of MMR and other vaccines:

“If this precipitates a scare and immunization rates go down,” Murch warned, “as sure as night follows day, measles will return and children will die.”

  1. David N. Brown:
    As I've commented here and elsewhere before, the basic problem with the Bachman annecdote is that retardation tends to be diagnosed LONG before the recommended age for HPV vaccination. So, where the autism claim(s) at least involves vaccines given by the time a diagnosis would occur, Bachman's report doesn't offer even a convincing chronological association. David N. Brown Mesa, Arizona
  2. MikeMa:
    Interesting, but in the long term self defeating. The value of vaccination is in its effectiveness. This is the greatest source of its long term success and short term failure. Morons can undermine vaccination with anecdotes and fear precisely because vaccines have been so successful. The rare cases of true vaccine harm are easily exploited since vaccine preventable diseases are so rare. When that changes, as it must when herd immunity drops, vaccine uptake will rise again. It doesn't help that public understanding and trust of science is waning in the US. That may be the more difficult thing to re-acquire because it takes work and simple sound bites are easier.
  3. Sam:
    Not vaccinating your kids is like not making them wear a seatbelt in the car. Maybe they're safe anyway, but you are risking brain damage or death--not only for them but for those around them with weak immune systems or who are too young for vaccines. Your neighbors baby might die because you think you're too cool to vaccinate your kids against whooping cough. A must-read for parents: One family's experience with the consequences of not vaccinating their child. http://www.npr.org/2011/01/09/132735944/as-the-facts-win-out-vaccinations-may-too And why is it that the people accusing "big pharma" of a conspiracy and who ask for more research on vaccines are the same people who will give untested, dangerous, expensive "alternative" treatments to their kids based on nothing but the recommendation of people getting rich off of these treatments? A man was recently arrested in Maryland for posing as a doctor and giving autistic children painful injections, costing their parents $70,000 a year. These injections have no medical science or evidence to back them up and are likely causing permanent physical damage to the kids. But hey, anti-vax has become like a cult "trust in me, only me, everyone else is out to get you." Yeah, right.
  4. Saraquill:
    Why do these people want so many to die from easily preventable diseases?
  5. Autism Blog – Worries About Autism Link Still Hang Over Vaccines … | My Autism Site | All About Autism:
    [...] View original post here: Autism Blog – Worries About Autism Link Still Hang Over Vaccines … [...]

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