This week, writer Aaron Carroll provided a graphic depiction of the toll of the antivaccination movement, which itself comes from a Council on Foreign Relations interactive map of “vaccine-preventable outbreaks” worldwide 2008-2014. I narrowed down the map to just include measles, mumps, and rubella, three diseases that can and are prevented by the MMR (or more commonly in the USA, MMRV, which includes chickenpox) vaccine.
Even though the vaccine deniers champion the trope that these diseases are “not serious,” real evidence from real infectious disease medical specialists say otherwise. Measles, mumps and rubella can be dangerous diseases with debilitating complications, including death, for both children and adults. And as you can see in the map (click on it for greater detail), outbreaks of measles (in red), mumps (in olive) and rubella (in blue) are larger than it should be in both the developed and the developing world than it should be, given the easy access to the MMR (or MMRV) vaccines.
These outbreaks are directly related to a subset of the antivaccination mob who believe that the MMR vaccine specifically causes autism, a disorder of neural development, usually appearing before the age of 3 years, characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. This ridiculous belief is based on retracted paper authored by Mr. Andy Wakefield who fraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. If you want to read all about Wakefield’s despicable deceit, you can read it here, here, and here, a series of articles published in the British Medical Journal, a respected peer-reviewed publication.
Recently, according to a UK newspaper, The Telegraph that described a frightening measles outbreak in the UK, “what actually caused the drop in vaccination uptake which led to Swansea was the autism scare, started and repeatedly stoked by Wakefield, abetted (it must be admitted) by the media.” It’s clear that, at least in modern, developed areas like the USA and Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and Japan, the outbreaks of measles lies right at the feet of Wakefield, and his unethical and immoral claims.
The vast majority (and by vast, nearly 100%) of studies that examined the correlation between MMR vaccines and autism completely and irrefutably dismissed any link whatsoever between MMR and autism. Here’s just a small list of the best epidemiological studies and systemic reviews that refute the myth perpetrated by the fraudulent Wakefield study:
- The Cochrane Reviews stated that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism, after a meta-review of 31 published scientific studies that examined the possibility of any link between the MMR vaccine and the health issues claimed by Wakefield. Cochrane concluded that, “exposure to MMR was unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis.”
- There are no scientific or medical controversies about this conclusion.
- Medical and scientific experts have agreed with the conclusion that MMR vaccine is not associated with autism.
- But it did lead to a public health crisis based on this fraud.
- Well constructed epidemiological studies have also shown no link between MMR vaccine and autism in Denmark, England, Japan, Japan, Japan, Poland, and the United States.
- Despite claims that Wakefield’s findings were reproduced, not one single peer-reviewed paper ever supported the Wakefield’s claims. None.
- Numerous studies specifically invalidate his claim.
- In October 2004, a meta review, financed by the European Union, was published in the October 2004 edition of Vaccine and assessed the evidence given in 120 other studies and considered unintended effects of the MMR vaccine. The authors concluded that “exposure to MMR is unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis.”
- A 2007 review of independent studies, performed after the publication of Wakefield’s fraudulent article, found that evidence did not support a causal association between vaccines and autism.
- A 2009 review of studies on links between vaccines and autism concludes that “twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism. These studies have been performed in several countries by many different investigators who have employed a multitude of epidemiologic and statistical methods.” They also stated that the large size of these studies would have identified even minor correlations, and even then nothing was found.
When I look at that map, I see one man, who because of his own greed (Wakefield had his own vaccine he wanted to sell, and he received payments from plaintiff’s attorneys to show that MMR cause problems), is ultimately responsible for each of those outbreaks. Until Wakefield published his lies (admittedly with the approval of one of the most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet), the MMR vaccine was considered to be one of the great lifesaving medical discoveries ever. Yes, there were pockets of vaccine deniers here and there before Wakefield, just like there are people, here and there, who believe in sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, or that the Unabomber knows the truth. But all of those crazies stayed in the background.
With the advent of Wakefield’s claims, people believed that one of the safest vaccines that prevent some dangerous diseases was bad for their kids. And despite all of the science that has refuted the original lie, it’s always the original Big Lie that stands, and the truth, that the MMR vaccines does not cause autism, gets lost in the noise.
In an article (about the same map above), Los Angeles Times writer Michael Hiltzik concludes:
The lesson of all this is that vaccination is not an individual choice to be made by a parent for his or her own offspring. It’s a public health issue, because the diseases contracted by unvaccinated children are a threat to the community. That’s what public health is all about, and an overly tolerant approach to non-medical exemptions — and publicity given to anti-vaccination charlatans like Wakefield and (Jenny) McCarthy by heedless promoters like, sadly, Katie Couric, affect us all.
The MMR vaccine is safe. It saves lives. And nearly all of those outbreaks in that map could be prevented with the proper vaccinations.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Immunization Safety Review Committee. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004.PubMed PMID: 20669467.
- Retraction–Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 2010 Feb 6;375(9713):445. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60175-4. PubMed PMID: 20137807.
- Deer B. How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. BMJ. 2011 Jan 5;342:c5347. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5347. PubMed PMID: 21209059.
- Deer B. Secrets of the MMR scare . How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money. BMJ. 2011 Jan 11;342:c5258. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5258. PubMed PMID: 21224310.
- Deer B. Secrets of the MMR scare. The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news. BMJ. 2011 Jan 18;342:c7001. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c7001. PubMed PMID: 21245118.
- Demicheli V, Rivetti A, Debalini MG, Di Pietrantonj C. Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2:CD004407. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3. Review. PubMed PMID: 22336803.
- Destefano F, Price CS, Weintraub ES. Increasing exposure to antibody-stimulating proteins and polysaccharides in vaccines is not associated with risk of autism. J Pediatr. 2013 Aug;163(2):561-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.02.001. Epub 2013 Mar 30. PubMed PMID: 23545349.
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- Flaherty DK. The vaccine-autism connection: a public health crisis caused by unethical medical practices and fraudulent science. Ann Pharmacother. 2011 Oct;45(10):1302-4. doi: 10.1345/aph.1Q318. Epub 2011 Sep 13. PubMed PMID: 21917556.
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- Madsen KM, Hviid A, Vestergaard M, Schendel D, Wohlfahrt J, Thorsen P, Olsen J, Melbye M. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. N Engl J Med. 2002 Nov 7;347(19):1477-82. PubMed PMID: 12421889.
- Mrozek-Budzyn D, Kiełtyka A, Majewska R. Lack of association between measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism in children: a case-control study. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2010 May;29(5):397-400. doi: 10.1097/INF.0b013e3181c40a8a. PubMed PMID: 19952979.
- Taylor B, Lingam R, Simmons A, Stowe J, Miller E, Andrews N. Autism and MMR vaccination in North London; no causal relationship.Mol Psychiatry. 2002;7 Suppl 2:S7-8. PubMed PMID: 12142932.
- Uchiyama T, Kurosawa M, Inaba Y. MMR-vaccine and regression in autism spectrum disorders: negative results presented from Japan. J Autism Dev Disord. 2007 Feb;37(2):210-7. PubMed PMID: 16865547.
- Uno Y, Uchiyama T, Kurosawa M, Aleksic B, Ozaki N. The combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines and the total number of vaccines are not associated with development of autism spectrum disorder: the first case-control study in Asia. Vaccine. 2012 Jun 13;30(28):4292-8. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2012.01.093. Epub 2012 Apr 20. PubMed PMID: 22521285.