Autism-Vaccine Debate Reaches Toxic Levels

In Sunday’s Doonesbury comic strip, even famed cartoonist Garry Trudeau decided to weigh in on the autism-vaccine debate, taking swipes at Jenny McCarthy in the process. McCarthy, who has become the de facto face of the anti-vaccination movement, has taken a beating in recent months, particularly when charges of fraud surfaced from a 1998 study attempting to link the MMR vaccine with gastrointestinal disorders and autism. McCarthy often cited the Andrew Wakefield study in her debates, making her an easy target in the messy aftermath.

A lot of the criticism McCarthy has endured is arguably self-inflicted. However, the viciousness of the attacks towards her and other parents within the "vaccine safety" movement has been unprecedented. As a result, autism has unfortunately become an incredibly polarizing issue, creating the type of divisiveness that is typically reserved for politics.

One example of some of the mudslinging can be found over at a science-based autism blog. In the comment section of a recent McCarthy story, a visitor wrote:

"I find it really hard to belive [sic] she’s still in the public eye at all!  Former porn actress who had a small part in a mildly amusing film about ten years ago (and that was several years after her ‘previous’ career), she probably just got a bit carried away when she realised she was getting coverage for opening her mouth."

David Kirby, a former New York Times reporter and author of "Evidence of Harm," is another person who has found himself in the crosshairs of pro-vaccine and science groups. His book, which addresses the thimerosal-autism controversy, has been derided by many and he has since been portrayed as a biased and delusional conspiracy theorist

The vitriol has not been one-sided, either. Vaccine safety advocates and even McCarthy herself have been just as complicit in fanning the flames of the now-toxic autism-vaccine debate. In a 2009 Time magazine interview, McCarthy stated the following:

"I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fu**ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s sh**. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism."

Additionally, there have been countless parents who have accused doctors, pharmaceutical companies and others within the scientific community of knowingly "poisoning" and harming children in the names of profit and greed, often with little or no supporting evidence to back their claims.

It’s extremely disheartening to see the issue of autism, and those affected by it, getting dragged so much through the mud. As members of the "autism fraternity," parents and families who are affected by the disorder should be unified for a single cause to improve our children’s conditions and help the many others that will soon follow our paths. Instead, autism has become a catalyst for a tremendous amount of division and hatred.

Even Autism Speaks, one of the largest autism organizations in the world, has not escaped the autism-vaccine debate unscathed. 

Katie Wright, daughter of organization founders Bob and Suzanne Wright, was interviewed by David Kirby in 2007 and suggested that vaccines may have played a role in her son’s autism. The interview put Autism Speaks in damage control mode and caused her parents to post a statement to the organization’s Web site. The older Wright’s distanced themselves from their daughter’s comments and stated that Katie’s views "do not represent or reflect the ongoing mission of Autism Speaks." This came, despite the fact that it was her son, Christian, who was the reason the organization was founded to begin with.

As more and more studies continue to emerge disproving a connection, it is becoming much more difficult to solely place the blame on vaccines as a cause of autism. However, it is also hard not to sympathize with parents who are unequivocally convinced that their children’s autism was caused or triggered by vaccinations. 

Regardless of where we find ourselves in the autism-vaccine debate, it’s clear that the attacks coming both sides need to be toned down. The time spent bickering, quarreling and vilifying one another is time that can be spent with our children, helping to improve their condition. Because in the end, it is they who will ultimately suffer the most as a result of the infighting within the autism community.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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