Tag Archives: Andrew Wakefield

RIP MMR/Autism

Or, White People, You’ve Really Got to Start Hitting Vaccinating Your Kids

Boy bands and Spice Girls for the 90s; autotune and screamo for the 2000s—I remember decades mostly in terms of music, maybe fashion—but sometimes I wonder if decades could just as easily be defined in terms of “what the hell is wrong with our kids?”

At the end of the 90s, it seemed you couldn’t fling a rock without clocking a kid with ADD or ADHD, or shit yourself over a school shooting. This last decade, it was autism—according to educators, kids diagnosed with autism now comprise the greatest number of children receiving special education and some are calling this an honest to god ‘epidemic’ sweeping the world, as more children than ever are being diagnosed. And the numbers are only rising.

As with ADD and school-shooting rampages, the experts and non-experts have come out of the woodwork to offer their opinions, and in our never-ending quest to find the perfect whipping boy, the current theory has bypassed sugar, violent video games and a cross-dressing glam rock singer to settle on—vaccines.

Though this controversy has apparently been raging in the US for the past decade, I only became aware of it this past fall when I went back to the states and talked to an old friend. As we chatted and caught up, our conversation moved to doctors and she told me she was not planning on vaccinating her children at all, because she considered the practice unnecessary and dangerous. I was surprised to hear this. I’d never heard anyone express such a radical opinion before, but this friend has always been rather unconventional. She’s also extremely down-to-earth and intelligent, so I figured her reasons must be sound and I would look into it later. To my surprise, I needed to wait only a week until I heard ANOTHER person tell me that a whole wave of people, in and out of the US, are now against vaccinating their kids because of dangers supposedly associated with the practice. I thought: DANGERS?

What dangers? Vaccines have been around for a hundred years. They save thousands of thousands of lives a year from creepy-sounding ailments like rubella and whooping cough. When you don’t inoculate, you expose your kids and the community at large to polio or a somethingsomething fever that manifests in tiny vaginas breaking out all over the face, right before you bleed to death. How can people possibly be questioning the efficacy of inoculations after a full century of positive medical progress?

Then I realized that sometimes, it takes only one idiot to decimate a century of medical progress.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a research article in Britain that would cause a decade long controversy. In his article, he claimed to have discovered a link, however tenuous, between the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine and twelve children with autism. In wake of his research, parents with autistic children have waged campaigns to stop routine vaccinations and stars have written tear-stained memoires that supported his findings.

….by the way:

Mr. Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine. His results have yet to be replicated/confirmed in any other study. The article was partially retracted in the early 2000s and fully retracted in Feb 2010, once it became clear that prior to the study, Wakefield had been engaged by a lawyer who hoped to launch a lucrative campaign against vaccine companies, and that his ‘research’ was not only unethical, but also largely anecdotal, relying on parental memory of when the involved children developed autistic symptoms vis-à-vis their administered vaccines. The ex-doctor has been called a fraud and many still-practicing doctors have said that his unsupported claims have done only damage.

Sadly though, none of this matters:

A link has been established in the public’s mind—a link that one doctor claims “just will not die.” And unfortunately, for many people, this completely unsubstantiated connection has moved onto vaccines that have never even been part of the fraudulent study, such as those for whooping cough or scarlet fever. As a result, diseases that have been good and dead for decades are raising their ugly heads again.

And yet, even so, there are parents with autistic kids (or parents without) who are vehemently against vaccinations. Their testimonies, along with those of a few celebrities, feed the flames.

Take Jenny McCarthy. I don’t remember much of what she actually did—in my mind, the memory slot of JM is occupied by a lone picture (Rolling Stone magazine cover? Not sure) of a blonde holding a hot-dog with a shit-eating grin and dousing her sweet knockers, not the wiener, in mustard.  (Oh, you!) A handful of years later, she’d grown up, had a kid, and wrote a book documenting her first-hand account of how vaccines plunged her son into autism. With all due respect (wait, that’s what people say when they mean no respect at all), it could have been the copious amounts of yellow-5 that soaked through her boob-meat from her mustard-bukkake days that caused her kid’s autism—I mean, medically, that is about as sound as the claim she’s made and we could just as viably launch a campaign to shut down those people at ‘French’s’. But because she was pretty for five minutes, her emotional plea, based on ONE child  and with no scientific/medical basis at all, is out convincing people to not give their kids life-saving vaccines.

Now maybe you’re thinking, Jesus, heartless cow. Her kid has autism, can’t you give her a break? And all the parents out there who are in the same boat? But believe it or not, I do have some experience with this sort of thing—my parents also raised a kid with severe problems (ANOTHER one besides me, haha!)—back in the days when labels weren’t so easy to come by and one had to make do with ‘retarded’ or nothing at all. They picked nothing at all. They never knew what was wrong—they still don’t. But I’ve seen and watched them watch her, knowing that their kid (in her thirties now and not a kid anymore) will never be ‘normal’. She will never be able to raise a family or live an independent life. And though they’ve more or less stopped looking for answers that won’t come,  when they still had their optimism and would grasp at straws, they always said: “Oh… she’ll grow out of it.” Secretly, because I was an asshole as a kid too, I used to wonder “Why do they keep pretending she’ll ‘grow out of it’? Why don’t they just admit she’s retarded and move on?”

Two decades later, about to be a parent myself, I get why. Because it hurts. You want your kid to be healthy, smart, beautiful, happy—normal. Those so inclined pray for it. But the fact of the matter is—as I look around at my peers who come from multiple kid families… it seems as common as not to have at least one sibling who is not all there—that’s just the way it is, I suppose. And if my sister was growing up now, and not in the mid-eighties, it’s probable that she would also be diagnosed with autism, for lack of something better.

Which brings us to the other matter—whether or not you believe in there being much new under the sun. There are some doctors who claim this ‘epidemic’ is real; there are others who maintain that this might just be a lot of buha. Because as awareness is raised, diseases become as trendy as styles of music—what was once considered to be a fairly distinctive condition has become a blanket term for a variety of states that in the past may not have been called autism at all.

Whatever autism is though, I have yet to find any unbiased, medical account making a connection to its origins and vaccines. Based in cool, hard SCIENCE, that is. Any links I’ve found have been strictly anecdotal and highly emotional, claimed by parents desperate to find an antidote for the poison called ‘why’. Why is my kid like this and why did this have to happen to us? I paraphrase one mother’s bitter claim; that if she could pick between having a child with autism, or one with measles, having seen what autism did to her son, she would “pick the fucking measles.” Unfortunately, that implies some merciful god who gives you a choice between two horrible things, when what she’s really looking at is having an autistic kid WITH measles—and possibly endangering the community around her. In fact, non-believers can look at statistics of countries where, for whatever reasons, the MMR vaccine is not routinely given (say Japan and Russia). Autism, or what is called autism, is rising at the same rate in those places as anywhere else.

And now: new decade, new fashions, new music, new scandals. New disease scares. For the parents who have autistic kids (or any kids with severe disabilities), I do wish there was some answer out there for them as simple as avoiding a routine vaccine— Hell, if I could believe that not vaccinating MY kid would side-step any future behavioral/learning issues, I would do it!

But it never is that simple.

I hope people will read it for themselves, and let the relationship between MMR and autism rest in peace.