It’s vexing that we need another study to yet again debunk the myth that vaccinations cause autism in children. But here we are again, 20 years after U.K. doctor Andrew Wakefield made that unsubstantiated claim and set off a wave of anti-vaxers that still persists today.
Researchers at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institute were the latest to refute the claims in study results released this week that looked at more than half a million children and found no inkling of a link to developmental disorders.
The study comes as the country may be primed for a major and much needed backlash against the anti-vaccine movement, fueled by measles outbreaks in Washington and other states. The Washington health secretary pleaded with federal lawmakers Tuesday for a nationwide campaign to refute the notion that vaccines harm children. There were 206 cases of measles in the first two months of the year.
This follows stands taken by now-enlightened adults speaking out against parents who didn’t get them vaccinated as children. Even social media sites, often criticized for many of today’s societal ills, are doing their part to quiet the anti-vaccine rhetoric as the public health consequences become more dangerous. Amazon Prime is removing such videos, while YouTube will demonetize such clips. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday that Facebook and Twitter are blocking such posts.
It’s about time that all efforts are taken to put to rest an unfounded theory on vaccines made popular by a doctor with a financial interest in making such claims and an actress with no medical degree (yes, we are talking about Jenny McCarthy).The proof is in the science that vaccines keep children healthy. Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, but those efforts are now being threatened.
While most parents do vaccinate, the number who don’t has quadrupled in the time since the false claims about vaccines were first unleashed, according to CDC data. It has created a completely unnecessary public health crisis in parts of the country.
Treating a disease like measles and stopping its spread is an expensive proposition. Not to mention, it endangers those who can’t get vaccinated, including vulnerable newborns.
Maryland and other states should tighten or eliminate the rules that allow parents to exempt their children from getting vaccines because of philosophical or religious objections. It’s not surprising that the worst measles outbreaks occur where the exemptions are most lenient.
In Maryland, parents can exempt for religious reasons, but they do so simply by signing a form and don’t actually have to prove their religious affiliation. Such lax rules leave the door open for any parent to claim an exemption.
Some states that have dealt with outbreaks are looking at getting rid of their religious exemptions, including New Jersey, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, according to the National Vaccine Information Center. In Washington, legislation was introduced to eliminate the philosophical exemption and tighten the one that lets parents opt out for religious reasons. In one of the most notable cases, California got rid of most exemptions in 2015 after an outbreak in measles connected to kids who visited Disneyland.
The anti-vaxers have been far from quiet as the debate over vaccines has erupted once again. They go as far as calling the Centers for Disease Control a fraud. Some lawmakers in states around the country have also proposed legislation to make the exemptions more lax, including one in Arizona in opposition to the bill eliminating exemptions. We need to drown out their voices.
President Donald Trump hasn’t helped matters, having tweeted on several occasions about his belief in the link between autism and vaccines, even though health experts in his administration disagree. He has also met with Dr. Wakefield and other strong advocates of ending vaccination. It might be difficult getting a public health message supporting vaccines pass the country’s commander-in-chief.
But Maryland health officials can do the right thing. The state hasn’t had a measles outbreak yet. Maybe the officials should take a proactive stance before that happens. Then, instead of researchers spending valuable dollars on refuting an unscientific myth, they could devote the funds to actually finding the real causes of autism.