Jenny McCarthy, the co-host of ABC’s The View, made headlines recently when she cited a vaccination as the cause of her son’s autism. She is as famous for being an anti-vaccine advocate as she is a model or television host. But the question is, should Jenny McCarthy blame vaccines as the cause of autism?
To uncover the truth, it is important to track the rumor to its source. According to a CNN report, the case against vaccination began as early as 1998, when an article in the British medical journal The Lancet reported that a vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) might be the cause of autism-like symptoms. The article, written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, and his colleagues kicked off a firestorm. The article cited a study of eight children who had received an MMR vaccine and showed autistic symptoms. While Wakefield admitted that he could not be certain that the vaccine was the cause of autism in the eight children, the damage had been done.
As a result of this study, thousands of parents refused to vaccinate their children. The result was children hospitalized with measles by the thousands, and three deaths from the disease in Ireland. The Lancet later retracted the story and, as a result of an action in May 2010, Wakefield can no longer practice medicine in the United Kingdom.
The matter, it seemed, was settled, but three years ago the case against vaccination got another shot. A review printed in the 2011 Journal of Immunotoxicology states that there are a number of causes of autism, including “genetic mutations and/or deletions, viral infections, and encephalitis following vaccination.”
Suddenly, the answer was not so clear. It left many parents asking questions such as: Is Jenny McCarthy blame vaccines as the cause of autism?
Enter Allison Singer. She is the founder of the Autism Science Foundation and the mother of a 13-year-old with autism. She told CNN, “There is no link between vaccines and autism.” Singer said that 18 studies into a possible connection between vaccines and autism all came back showing no connection.
The Institute of Medicine, an organization that advises the nation on public health concerns, drew the same conclusion. In a 2004 report, the institute said the body of evidence “favors rejection of a casual relationship” between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Still, many parents think Jenny McCarthy is on target. They are well educated and well meaning and still wary of subjecting their children to vaccinations of any kind. One reason might be that children who suffer from autism are much more common than those who have died from any of the diseases associated with the MMR vaccine. Gary L. Freed, of the University of Michigan School of Medicine, says there is a reason for this. “The reason these diseases are so rare,” he says, “is because of immunizations.”
There are risks associated with going without vaccinations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta reported that a 2008 measles outbreak in San Diego was the result of people refusing to be vaccinated against the disease. A young child who had gone without vaccination brought the illness back from Europe and it spread rapidly among San Diego citizens, who themselves had not been vaccinated.
With stories from both sides, people still ask if Jenny McCarthy should blame vaccines as the cause of autism. The preponderance of evidence seems to point to the answer being no.
By David Warner