This guest post was written by Alethea Mshar out of concern for her son Ben. A version of this post originally appeared on her blog Ben’s Writing, Running Mom.
Like all parents, my child’s health is very important to me. That’s why, even after getting an autism diagnosis for my son, I still believe in and advocate for vaccinations.
I don’t believe autism is caused by MMR or any other vaccinations.
The allegations made by Andrew Wakefield, the man who tried to convince the world of an MMR vaccine-autism link, were based on falsified data, yet he continues to make his claim to try to frighten people throughout the world. This article by Brian Deer systematically addresses Wakefield’s flawed theories and debunks the autism myth that Andrew Wakefield has perpetuated.
As if that weren’t enough, there have been countless studies that have investigated any possible link between vaccines and autism and no evidence can be found to support such a link. (You can access the latest published research here, here and here.)
The science is clear, and yet there are many autism advocacy organizations that continue to install fear in parents who just want what’s best for their children.
As this Newsweek article explains:
“Despite the science, organizations involved in the anti-vaccine movement still hope to find some evidence that vaccines threaten children’s health. For example, the autism advocacy organization SafeMinds, —whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism, recently funded research it hoped would prove vaccines cause autism in children. But this effort appears to have backfired for the organization—since the study they funded failed to show any link between autism and vaccines.”
Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, commends SafeMinds for financially supporting the study, but she worries that some autism advocates may be asking the wrong questions.
“I’m not saying that we need to stop funding research in the environment, because we know the environment does impact neurodevelopment,” she says.
However, Halladay explains that organizations that look to blame vaccines for causing autism are “playing whack-a-mole”.
“First, the proposed association was between the MMR vaccines and autism. Then that was disproven. Then it was the thimerosal components in vaccines; now that has been further disproven in a carefully designed animal model study that aimed to specifically examine that question. It has also been suggested that the association is because of vaccine timing, but that too has been disproven. The target always seems to be moving, and the expectation is that scientific resources will be diverted to address each new modification of this hypothesized link.”
While there may always be people who will believe there is a link between vaccines and autism, despite the science that proves otherwise, I’m writing today to explain another issue that has swayed my decision to support vaccines.
This issue is one of life and death for my son Ben.
I realize, very clearly, that without vaccinations my son would die.
That is why I am a fan of modern medicine and the science that makes vaccines possible. If Ben had been born a century sooner, he wouldn’t have survived his Hirschsprung’s disease. Had he been born less than a half century sooner, he wouldn’t have survived leukemia. As it is, we have come face to face with his mortality several times. I see vaccinations along the same lines as chemotherapy – far from perfect, but with the help of the scientific method, getting better all the time. Vaccines, and even chemotherapy in Ben’s case, are the best shot we have at giving our child a long, healthy life.
For us, though, it goes a step further.
Ben is also immunocompromised.
That means that even fully vaccinated, he doesn’t have enough ability to fight off diseases. He is that kid. The kid who needs herd immunity. He’s the reason our whole family gets flu shots and chicken pox vaccines. He’s the kid who needed boosters for pneumococcal vaccines – because his body lost immunity to them. Even though we do our best to protect him, he’s the kid that could get infected during a measles outbreak. And he is the kid whose body is weak and who is very likely to succumb to a disease like measles, which would inevitably hospitalize him or worse…cost him his life.
I wrote this piece after weeks of consideration. I realize this could ruffle feathers. So I ask…
If you don’t vaccinate, have you researched the diseases we vaccinate against as well as the side effects of vaccinations? Have you seen what polio and diphtheria can do? Do you realize that if measles encephalitis sets in that your child will be isolated in the Intensive Care Unit while you wait to find out if he or she is the lucky one who survives with brain damage? And do you realize that, statistically speaking, the greatest risk in getting a vaccine for your child is driving your child to the doctor’s office?
I realize the rhetoric goes around and around, and that I’m about as likely to change your mind as you are likely to change mine. But if there’s that tiny chance that you’re really considering all the facts, I’m hopeful that Ben’s face and plight would make a difference. After all, I am his mother, and I must do everything I can to protect him and keep him healthy. I have to try.
I have a sad feeling that it will take a true epidemic to turn the tide. I just hope that my child will not end up as a casualty. He is not a statistic, nor would I ever want him to be one…he’s our precious child and we don’t want to lose him.
So please remember, your vaccination status could mean the life or death of a child like Ben.
Every Child By Two is collaborating with various immunization advocacy organizations to collect personal stories about the value of vaccines. These stories will then be shared with state and federal legislators throughout National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) in August. Help ensure that our government representatives know that our country, our communities, our students and our families deserve protection from vaccine preventable diseases. Join the movement and speak out in favor of vaccines by sharing your story at the following link: bit.ly/28NoZCR.
The fact is that I’m not autistic and I do not have an autistic child. Therefore, I’m often reluctant to speak out on the subject of autism. This is not because I don’t support the autism community – I most certainly do! But because I don’t consider myself part of the inner circle of the autism community.
The way I see it, this inner circle is reserved for individuals with autism, as well as the family members, educators, therapists, researchers, and caregivers that support those living with autism. And I would never want to presume to know what they need. However, I listen intently to their calls for action, and hope to help them in overcoming their challenges by offering funds and support.
From my “outsider’s” point of view, autism awareness is about understanding, acceptance, inclusion, improved quality of life, and better support and resources for autistic individuals and those who assist them. I believe every individual deserves the opportunity to lead a full, healthy and meaningful life. But then again, who am I to define what constitutes a full, healthy and meaningful life? When it comes to autism, I believe that research is critical in helping to understand how best to assist autistic individuals and their families, and not hinder or restrict them in any way.
When I investigate the extensive research that is being conducted on the subject of autism, it is truly awe-inspiring. There is so much we have learned, and yet, still so much to understand and discover. Research is beginning to reveal various genetic factors that appear to contribute to autism. We continue to learn about early interventions and successful treatments. And we’ve spent an enormous amount of resources investigating a potential link between vaccines and autism.
To address concerns that maybe childhood vaccines were contributing to the rise in autism, multiple studies were conducted to look at children who received vaccines in comparison to those who didn’t, and in comparison to those who received them on a different or slower schedule. There were even studies that looked into specific vaccines, such as the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR), as well as research into vaccine ingredients such as a preservative know as thimerosal.
The results of all these studies were clear and experts agree; there is no relation between vaccines and autism. But despite the scientific evidence, suggestions that vaccines are a cause of autism continue to appear within comments on this blog, comments on our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, and on countless sites all over the internet.
Today, as I perused various social media platforms on World Autism Awareness Day, I noted the ways people were “talking” about autism, and I was saddened to see that some people who are speaking on behalf of the autism community are also actively encouraging vaccine refusal.
Unfortunately, this dialogue is more hurtful than helpful. Unvaccinated children are suffering with preventable diseases and sometimes even spreading dangerous diseases to others. To add insult to injury, one of the most well-known autism advocacy organizations in the U.S. (Autism Speaks) continues to send mixed messages about their position on the subject of vaccines and autism.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that suggested that #AutismSpeaksTooLate on the subject of vaccines.
It’s no secret that Autism Speaks has continually made statements that seemingly perpetuate the idea of a vaccine/autism link. For instance, their Strategic Plan for Science, which outlines the group’s priorities for the years 2013 to 2017, also makes similar suggestions of a causal relationship by stating: Read more…
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 students 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: Read more…
A new study, which investigated data from the National Immunization Surveys published between 1995 and 2006, confirms what public health advocates already suspected. As the Medical Daily blog reported yesterday, the study determined that “Childhood vaccinations decreased in response to the fears surrounding autism risks.” It’s remarkable that even today, despite the existence of widespread research that fails to show any link between autism and vaccinations, this false belief continues to persist.
Many of the parents I’ve spoken to over the years don’t even realize that the premise for these fears stemmed from a small, but well publicized study conducted by Andrew Wakefield and published in The Lancet in 1998. Since then, many researchers tried to verify Wakefield’s claims, only to discover that their research proved the opposite. Study after study failed to show vaccinations were in any way contributing to the incidence of autism. Then in 2010, after evidence of tampering and undeclared conflicts of interest, Andrew Wakefield was ultimately stripped of his medical license due to the seriousness of his professional misconduct and The Lancet retracted the fraudulent study that first sparked the suggestion of a vaccine/autism link.
But years later the damage is proving extremely difficult to undo. There are still many people who cling to Wakefield’s study as proof of a correlation. The latest analysis from the soon-to-be-released study of immunization surveys has confirmed that autism fears have had a negative impact on immunization rates. The study also presents a few other interesting observations:
- More children of college-educated mothers were not vaccinated than children of non-college educated mothers, with noticeable spikes in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
- While the controversy centered on the MMR vaccination, the autism fear had an impact on other vaccinations, to include polio and the combination vaccine to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
These observations ultimately lead to other relevant questions. Read more…
Sure, I went through the motions of decorating the house. Heck, I even trimmed the tree and managed to adorn the outside with twinkling icicles. The “holiday music all-the-time” radio station has been playing continuously since Thanksgiving andour Elf on the Shelf tradition has been in full swing. Unfortunately, none of this has seemed to help.
Honestly, I was beginning to feel a bit like a Scrooge and I’ve procrastinated everything from Christmas cards to holiday shopping.
But that all changed yesterday.
As I set out early yesterday morning, to begin what I feared was going to be a dreadful day of shopping, I realized that my Ebenezer mood was disappearing as quickly as a plate of warm cookies and milk. I filled my bags with the perfect gifts for everyone on my list. From the elementary school teacher, to the helpful neighbor hosting tomorrow’s Christmas party, to a church volunteer, down to my very own children.
And just like that, I discovered the missing ingredient. The one thing that has finally made all the difference. Read more…
You may be asking, why would an immunization organization like Every Child By Two be offering education on autism? To be honest, as we continue to share information about autism research on this blog and on our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, we hear this question time and again.
“If there is no link between vaccines and autism, then why do you spend so much time talking about it?”
While the majority of people realize that vaccines are not responsible for a diagnosis of autism, there are still some people who are under the impression that some possible link may exist. In fact, research has indicated that some parental hesitation about vaccinations is in part due to these unsettling concerns and misconceptions. According to a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll published in January 2011, 18% of Americans say vaccines cause autism and 30% of Americans aren’t sure.
That is why Every Child By Two continues to be involved in the conversation. They believe that as long as these two things remain associated in some way, both the immunization community, as well as the autism community, have an important role in educating parents.
It’s no surprise that the vaccine conversation often involves the word autism. While numerous studies have failed to show a casual link between vaccines and autism, there is still so much to learn about Autism Spectrum Disorders.
So today I’m excited that one of my favorite non-profits, the Autism Science Foundation (ASF), is being featured on Philanthroper.com. Philanthroper has been described as the “Groupon” of the nonprofit world. Each day they raise funds $1 at a time for a selected nonprofit and today that’s ASF!!
Philanthroper is about group giving. If everyone gives a little bit it will add up to help fund another critical piece of autism research. All dollars raised through this project will go directly to research. hat’s great is that the Autism Science Foundation is dedicated to funding the freshest, most exciting ideas to track down the causes of autism and develop evidence-based treatments. And they’re really good at leveraging small grants to young, driven researchers – even pre-doctoral and doctoralstudents – to explore promising new ideas. Their work is very exciting and I’m happy to do my part to help.
So please gather up your change and donate $1 today. Then be sure to SHARE the news with all your friends on Facebook, Twitter and through email so we can get even
more support for ASF’s work. You can only donate TODAY so be sure to help me get the message out. Giving a little change in our pockets is like giving hope of big changes in autism research so be sure to visit Philanthroper.com now.
Use These Updates to Help Spread the Word
Facebook Update: I just gave $1 to support the Autism Science Foundation on Philanthroper.com!
You can only donate today so please join me in giving a little change in your pockets for the hope of big changes for autism research! (Help spread the hope by reposting this
to your Facebook status after you donate) http://philanthroper.com/deals/autism-science-foundation
Twitter Update: I just gave $1 to @AutismScienceFd featured on @philanthropr. Pls donate (today only!) & help fund autism research http://bit.ly/lMI9H3
Email Update: I just gave $1 to support the Autism Science Foundation on Philanthroper.com! Please join me! You can only donate today, so please take a moment and give a little hope to help fund autism research! http://philanthroper.com/deals/autism-science-foundation