Ok, this is the kind of piece that had better start with a disclaimer. And I’ll write it myself. This piece does not reflect the views of Gays With Kids, and is the sole opinion of one very pissed-off dad. Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here we go.
If you are a parent who chooses not to vaccinate your children because you believe that vaccines cause autism, then you are an irresponsible idiot who is not only putting your own child at risk, but is making the world a less safe place for me and my child.
The right-wing, fear-mongering, opinion-grounded, science-ignoring nutjobs that encourage smaller government and less regulation are the leading propagators of the irresponsible and incorrect notion that vaccines cause autism.
I have overheard and been part of more than one conversation about the links between vaccination and autism in children, where I have seen it written or heard it said, “Well, doctors aren’t sure…” or “The science isn’t fully behind one way or another.”
No, they are. They are sure. And the science comes down on one very clear side of this debate. That’s the thing about being a doctor or a scientist. It’s being sure. It’s the being sure of it that we rely on, to protect our children, to cure diseases, to save lives. Science isn’t based on opinion. It’s based on facts, facts that have been ascertained by medical professionals who study in great detail, and have to prove and re-prove assertions and theories, so that they can then become unequivocally true. So to casually intimate that you can make some link between vaccine and autism that doctors and scientists cannot make, isn’t irresponsible alone, it belies the advances and achievements of modern medicines, and the men and women who make it their life’s work to know better.
Now, in a world where it’s estimated that as many as one in 68 children are on the autism spectrum, it would be foolish not to be concerned for the health and well-being of our children. One of my very best friends has a brother on the spectrum, and throughout the course of his life, I am sure that his parents have wanted to know the “why” of it all. I’ve told his story before, here.
But there is a chasm to cross between “Geez, I wonder why” and “IT’S THE VACCINES! IT HAS TO BE THE VACCINES!” Just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean you get to fill in the blanks, it doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t know. Your lack of knowledge on the topic doesn’t allow for it to be true by default. That’s the time when, again, you have to go to the science.
And so, what does the science say? Well, there’s a variety of resources at the disposal of those who seek more knowledge, more information, and more fact. We’ll start with the Centers for Disease Control, whose motto is “Saving Lives, Protecting People”. I’m into that. The fun thing about the CDC’s website, in addition to cute cartoon graphics, is the way in which they break down information for people like me, you know, a writer. (Read: not a doctor or scientist or professional disease-controller.) There’s a big line of text that summarizes the paragraph to follow, to condense in an easy way the potentially dense information below it. Here’s a fun summary line:
“There is no link between vaccines and autism.”
Hm, that’s interesting. It’s interesting because it’s written in an authoritative and declarative voice, based on science and research. And facts.
The CDC expands on that fact by saying, “Some people have had concerns that ASD [autism spectrum disorder] might be linked to the vaccines children receive, but studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD.”
For those parents who, perhaps governed by fear or confused by the noise and hype of the anti-vaccination movement, think that the Centers for Disease Control is influenced by pro-pharmaceutical American lobbyists, we turn to the World Health Organization.
In the late 90s, concerns cropped up, regarding a possible link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations. The World Health Organization commissioned an independent review of the science, and sough to prove or disprove that link. Those findings were presented to the World Health Organization’s “Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS).” Here’s the proof line, the definitive statement on the issue.
“Based on the extensive review presented, GACVS concluded that no evidence exists of a causal association between MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders.”
Well … maybe it’s not the vaccines, then. Maybe it’s the schedule of our vaccines. Maybe we’re giving babies too many, too close together. So let’s spread out our vaccines, right? Instead of doing them all at once, which causes autism. This is the argument I hear from parents when confronted with the facts of science. Well, again, science knows better than we do, and so we are compelled to turn to it again.
This, then, from the World Health Organization, “There is no evidence to support the routine use of monovalent measles, mumps and rubella vaccines over the combined vaccine, a strategy which would put children at increased risk of incomplete immunization. Thus, GACVS recommends that there should be no change in current vaccination practices with MMR.”
And this, from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Or as I think of them, “That Really Big Group of The People Who Know All About Babies.” They had this to say, ”From time to time, rumors circulate that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines (and still used in some flu vaccine), could contribute to ASDs [autism spectrum disorders]. However, valid scientific studies have shown there is no link. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.”
And that’s it, folks. Those organizations represent the final say on this. There are no unanswered questions, there are no lingering mysteries waiting to be overturned, no maybes, perhapses, or I don’t knows.
If we can’t teach our kids that sometimes we get it wrong, that sometimes there are other people who know more than us, then what are we doing? We’re teaching our kids a terrible lesson about ego, about hubris, about our inability to correct course when we spot a flaw in our execution.
We’re not only filling the schoolyard with devastating Depression-era sicknesses that are entirely preventable, we’re filling the heads of the children in those schoolyards with the idea that if we don’t like the way things are, we can just ignore it.
So leave the science to the scientists, and the parenting to the parents. And get your kid his shots already. Because when you’ve worked as hard as I’ve worked to become a dad, I’ll be damned if I’ll let people go and ruin it because they’re too empty-headed to get their kids vaccinated.