Home > Get Involved, Science & Research, Vaccine Myths > Autism Speaks Too Late on Vaccines

Autism Speaks Too Late on Vaccines

Media attention surrounding the current measles outbreak in the U.S. suggests that we may be entering a new age in regard to vaccine advocacy.  As we’ve seen measles cases climb to over 141 so far this year, parents, who once assumed their children were learning alongside vaccinated classmates, have begun to inquire about the number of unvaccinated studentsvaxnoautism1 in their schools.  Reporters, who once touted headlines that publicized celebrities making irresponsible claims that vaccines cause autism, are now interviewing renowned epidemiologists to explain the latest resurgence of measles in the U.S.  And organizations, that had once walked a fine line between blaming vaccines for autism and supporting them, are adjusting their positions in the wake of the media’s focus on public health concerns.

The actions of one organization have really caught my eye – an organization that has enormous popularity and name recognition as an autism advocacy organization.

I’m referring to Autism Speaks.  

Just like the average American vaccinates their children according to the CDC’s recommended schedule, the average American probably considers Autism Speaks one of the largest and most influential autism organization in existence.  Their popularity has provided them with great influence, and with this influence comes great responsibility – both to the autism community and to the scientific community.

But the motives of the organization are often criticized to be buried beneath their flashy public relations efforts. While Autism Speaks continues to reap the financial benefits of many generous donors, questions have been raised about their spending habits, research priorities and even their leadership tactics that seem to disenfranchise autistic individuals.  In their failure to take a clear and firm stand on the research that exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism, they have also fallen out of favor with many science-minded individuals.

Despite the fact that extensive research has refuted any link between childhood vaccination and autism, Autism Speaks has continually made statements that seemingly perpetuate this dangerous myth and leave the door ajar.  Disability Scoop recently reported that Autism Speaks has undermined the safety of vaccines by stating:

“it remains possible that, in rare cases, immunization may trigger the onset of autism symptoms in a child with an underlying medical or genetic condition”

The article goes on to say that Autism Speaks’ Strategic Plan for Science, which outlines the group’s priorities for the years 2013 to 2017, continues to make suggestions of a causal relationship between vaccines and autism by stating:

“Autism Speaks is funding studies on the underlying biology of autism, including studies to better understand medical and genetic conditions that are associated with autism that could potentially be linked to adverse responses to immunization.”

And recently The Washington Post reported,

“In the past, the organization, which funded research into possible connections between immunizations and autism, has said it is possible that, in rare cases, ‘immunization may trigger the onset of autism symptoms in a child with an underlying medical or genetic condition’ — while pointing out that ‘studies have not found a link between vaccines and autism.’

While the organization’s ambiguous statements have failed to take a decisive stand on the issue of vaccines and autism, they have also chosen to affiliate themselves with celebrity figures who repeatedly advanced the concept through various media interviews.  For example, they have given a voice to celebrities such as Holly Robinson Peete who not only holds a position as a Board Member, but who has been extremely vocal in her claims that vaccines played a role in her child’s autism. They have promoted outspoken celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, whose vaccine claims appeared on their site with an unsupported statement that begins “despite research that says otherwise”.  They have even supported retired football player Doug Flutie, who has also made claims that vaccines played a role in his son’s autism.

However, as of this moment in time, there seems to be a bit of a discrepancy going on.  Surprisingly, and without reason (other than the previously mentioned media attention on the measles outbreak), Autism Speaks updated their website on February 4th to include a new statement on vaccines and autism.

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.
Rob Ring
Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks

But what has inspired them to revise their public statement on immunizations? Perhaps it would have made sense if this new position statement came on the heals of new scientific evidence.  The release of a high-profile study perhaps?  Some new data that would precipitate such a change of heart?

But no. That has not been the case.

The only thing that seems to have precipitated this statement is an outbreak of measles and the media’s response to it.  The increased media attention has raised public concerns that the growing measles outbreak may be a result of parents refusing the MMR vaccine for fear that it may make their child autistic – a concern that has not been denied by Autism Speaks…until, maybe, now…kind of.

And while we might expect that such a complete turn around in position would be boldly highlighted on the main landing page of the Autism Speaks website, I was bewildered to discover that the updated statement is buried several clicks into their site and nearly impossible to locate without the use of the site map.  What is even more unsettling is that this statement comes specifically from Rob Ring, the group’s Chief Science Officer, but has yet to be reiterated by other leaders within the organization.

Many critics of Autism Speaks speculate that this apparent change of position on the subject of vaccines is all about public perception, politics and the desire to appease their large donor base.  Whether this is what ultimately led to the change in their vaccine/autism statement we will probably never know.  For me, their actions seem to suggest that Autism Speaks is more concerned about public perception than in adhering to the guiding principles of scientific evidence.

While I should be applauding their new-found appreciation for science, all I can bring myself to say is #AutismSpeaksTooSoftly, #AutismSpeaksTooLate and #WhyShouldWeLIstenToAutismSpeaksNow?

I share these observations with you and ask…Are you content to support an organization that is willing to change their position whenever the media climate dictates – especially on an issue as important as vaccines and autism?  Or would you prefer to support an organization that stands firm on the science behind autism?

The Autism Science Foundation is an autism organization that is committed to helping autistic individuals by funding important autism research, and they also stand firm in their support of science.  In contrast, their website prominently features an extensive compilation of resources that clearly debunk the claim that vaccines cause autism.

If you care at all about autism research, then I urge you to take action.  Contact Autism Speaks President, Liz Feld, and request that the organization fully retract their previous position that vaccines play a role in autism spectrum disorders.  Suggest that they take responsibility for perpetuating a myth that has helped fuel various outbreaks of deadly vaccine preventable diseases.  And ask Ms. Feld herself to prominently announce their position that vaccines do not cause autism.

You can send letters to:  

Liz Feld, President

Autism Speaks

1 East 33rd Street, 4th Floor

New York, NY 10016 

or email familyservices@autismspeaks.org  

And don’t forget to share your message on social media, by suggesting that #AutismSpeaksTooLate, #AutismSpeaksTooSoftly and suggesting that Autism Speaks should #ShoutOutVaccinesAreSafe!  

  1. Randy
    February 21, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Not sure what your motive is for writing this article? Many of us in the Autism community do not agree with most of the stances that Autism Speaks represents and we do not consider them a good source of information for Autism. Contrary to what you say above, Autism Speaks has always disagreed with the vaccine-autism connection. Thus, why many of us do not support them. So they have not changed their tune, they have always denied any relationship with vaccines and Autism.
    BTW, what is Autism? If you can’t define it, how can you say that vaccine absolutely don’t contribute to it?
    Also, why has Autism been listed on certain vaccine inserts as a possible side-effect?
    What about the millions paid out to families with children with vaccine-induced Autism?
    -Randy Weinstein

    Like

  2. Lawrence
    February 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    @Randy – because there is no link.

    The inserts show every single “reported” item during the clinic trials – no ones that were actually shown to be related to the vaccine.

    Autism is defined by its characteristics – and because now millions of children have been part of studies to see if there was a connection, yet none has been found, any effect that vaccines might have on the autism rate is so small as to be completely lost in the background noise (i.e. what the autism rate is normally).

    And no money has been paid out for the diagnosis of “autism.” The Omnibus Hearings were the definitive response to that.

    Like

  3. lilady
    February 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Autism Speaks has always leaned toward a vaccine-autism link, due to the influence of the founders of the organization, Suzanne and Bob Wright, whose daughter Katie has an autistic child. Katie is hard core anti-vaccine (she’s on the Board of several anti-vaccine groups and she is a contributing blogger on Age of Autism). The Wrights, have, in the past, while representing Autism Speaks, confirmed their “belief” that vaccines are implicated in the onset of their grandchild’s ASD.

    Randy, you could always look at the changing DSM Diagnostic Criteria to find out how ASDs are now defined, as well as the changing diagnostic criteria used in educational settings (which are tied to services provided by school districts). We have better and earlier case ascertainment and far better genetic studies.

    Randy, those vaccine “package inserts” do report some very “odd” reactions reported during clinical trials, such as deaths due to drownings, and deaths from motor vehicle accidents, street drugs overdoses and gunshot wounds to the head (Gardasil package insert). The inclusion of these events are a requirement of the FDA before any vaccine, any biologic or any prescribed medication is approved/licensed by the FDA.

    “What about the millions paid out to families with children with vaccine-induced Autism?”

    The United States Court of Federal Claims (Vaccine Court) has honored claims for encephalitis/encephalopathy…never autism.

    Like

  4. Cami
    February 21, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Ok so if one can not trust them because they once said vaccines cause autism but now they don’t. How can anyone trust the CDC, who admits they knowingly gave millions the polio vaccines laced with cancer SV40 but now claim vaccines don’t cause cancer and need to be used for the greater good of humanity?

    Like

  5. Chris
    February 21, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    “cancer SV40”

    Which the actual scientists found and removed fifty years ago!

    Why would we trust anyone who drags up problems that were fixed several decades ago, long before Mercola, Mike Adams, and Barbara Loe Fisher were doing anything?

    Like

  6. Lawrence
    February 21, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Not only removed over 50 years ago, but not having been linked to a single Cancer since then….

    Like

  7. Karen
    February 22, 2015 at 12:30 am

    Thanks, Randy, great points, many of us agree with you!

    Like

  8. Chris
    February 22, 2015 at 2:04 am

    Karen (aka Cia Parker): “Thanks, Randy..”

    Why?

    So exactly why is the MMR vaccine more dangerous than measles?

    Like

  9. jgc56
    February 23, 2015 at 11:37 am

    “What about the millions paid out to families with children with vaccine-induced Autism?”

    Those millions don’t exist, Randy. The NVICP has never compensated any claimant, let alone paid out millions in compensation, for the development of vaccine-induced autism.

    ” How can anyone trust the CDC, who admits they knowingly gave millions the polio vaccines laced with cancer SV40 but now claim vaccines don’t cause cancer and need to be used for the greater good of humanity?”

    We don’t need to simply trust the CDC regarding a possible SV40 cancer link or for anything else–do we, Cami? We can examine the studies where the evidence rebutting a causal association is published ourselves, which includes studies performed by multiple independent reserachers and public helath agencies in nations other than the US.

    For example, with respect to a possible link between SV40 and cancer, consider “Cancer incidence in Denmark following exposure to poliovirus vaccine contaminated with simian virus 40” (PMID: 12671021) .

    Excerpt:

    “Specifically, SV40 exposure was not associated with increased incidence of mesothelioma, ependymoma, choroid plexus tumor, or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After 19.5 million person-years of follow-up, incidence of all cancers combined, of intracranial tumors, and of leukemia among children aged 0-4 years was also not associated with SV40 exposure.”

    Like

  10. Dorie Stinnette
    February 25, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I am not against vaccines, I think they do prevent, my problem is giving a child 4 to 5 shots at once and each shot has a content of 3 viruses in them. Too much for a small body to fight off at once. One to two shots at the most at one time.

    Like

  11. Chris
    February 25, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Ms. Stinnette, do your children live in a sterile environment? What is your evidence for this statement: “Too much for a small body to fight off at once.”?

    Like

  12. Lawrence
    February 25, 2015 at 10:57 am
  13. jgc56
    February 25, 2015 at 11:40 am

    “my problem is giving a child 4 to 5 shots at once and each shot has a content of 3 viruses in them.”

    Why is that your problem, dorrie? What evidence suggests that giving children multiple vaccinations at one time is “too much for a small body to fight off at once”?
    Be specific.

    After all, in the absence of such evidence all that will be accomplished by spacing out the vaccination schedule so children receive only one or two shots at one time is to leave them vulnerable to infection for a significantly extended period of time.

    Like

  1. February 28, 2015 at 12:27 am
  2. March 1, 2015 at 7:57 am
  3. April 2, 2015 at 11:34 pm

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