Where Did Autism Vaccination Theories Truly Originate From?

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There is a theory that autism can be caused by vaccinations, which was widely covered in the press and debated on social media. However, this theory has been largely debunked over time with many experts concluding it to not be true. Despite this rebuttal, there are still those who insist vaccines cause autism despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Where Did Autism Vaccination Theories Truly Originate From?


Long-standing anxieties about what immunizations are and how they operate, as well as ideological reservations about mandated medical treatments, are at the root of autism vaccination hypotheses. Disgraced experts and politicians have seized on anti-vaccination beliefs, which have been paired with shifting knowledge of what causes autism.

These notions have been thoroughly disproved time and time again.

Skepticism About Vaccines Has Its Origins

Vaccine doubt and resistance existed long before the conspiracy idea linking vaccinations to autism, according to Pacific Standard magazine. “Opposition has never been fully eradicated” even as scientific and statistical evidence emerged that vaccination was an effective method of preventing diseases — so much so that the science of vaccination is regarded as one of the greatest contributions to global health, having all but eliminated mortality from smallpox, measles, and polio. The BBC reported in 2019 that public belief in vaccinations was alarmingly low.

Why do people have such a negative attitude about vaccines? Some have voiced skepticism throughout the years that limited exposure to a disease may confer protection against it. Others refused immunizations for religious reasons. Many more people believe that compelled vaccinations are an infringement on their personal rights, particularly when local governments require children to get vaccinated over their parents’ concerns.

Autism’s Origins: ‘Alternative’ Theories

Autism was just recently discovered. Autism was just identified in the 1940s, and the concept and definition of autism, as well as the range of illnesses that it encompasses, have been modified several times since then.

Initially, experts believed that autism was caused by mothers’ unemotional and inattentive upbringing. This response from moms might be due to the fact that parenting an autistic kid creates maternal stress rather than the other way around.

The thinking had shifted by the mid-twentieth century. A scientist with an autistic kid proposed that autism was caused by biology rather than psychology or parenting.

Since then, experts have agreed that autism is a neurodevelopmental condition caused by a complicated mix of genetics, environment, and unknown factors.

Even with this knowledge, autism is difficult to define and treat. As a result, “alternative” views of autism have emerged, with parents, academics, and other well-intentioned individuals (as well as some evil actors) exploring outside the mainstream for causes, explanations, and even solutions for autism. This movement was sometimes fueled by real dissatisfaction with the sluggish pace of progress in autism research, treatment, and therapy. People were working from pseudoscience and conspiracy ideas in other situations.

Believing in the Emergence of an Epidemic

Autism treatment and therapy services started to be reformed as parents formed advocacy organizations. Misconceptions regarding autism and skepticism against established schools of thinking on the subject arose from this group, not the medical or educational professions, according to a medical expert from Duke University School of Medicine speaking to Pacific Standard. Frustration turned to assertions that there was a “epidemic” of autism caused by youngsters being exposed to a trigger (perhaps intentionally).

Many parents’ genuine anxieties about autism were perfectly aligned with the fringe anti-vaccination movement.

The Cutter Scandal

A seminal event in the development of autism vaccination theories was The Cutter Scandal. In 1955, Cutter Laboratories in California produced a vaccine for polio that contained a live, active form of the polio virus. As many as 200,000 children across the West Coast were given the vaccine, which was later discovered to be defective. By then, 40,000 of the children actually developed polio, 200 developed permanent paralysis, and 10 children died.

In 1982, a program named Vaccine Roulette aired on an NBC station in Washington, D.C., in which bereaved parents explained how a mandated vaccine had left their children in “near-comatose conditions.” Researchers were quoted in the video accusing the “medical establishment” of “aggressively marketing” a vaccination that deliberately ignored “consequences.”

The Anti-Vaccination Movement’s Rise

Although the film received multiple prizes, scientific and medical authorities condemned it for employing erroneous figures, untrustworthy experts, and dubious editing and storytelling approaches. By the mid-1980s, however, the anti-vaccination campaign had scored its first major win.

By the end of the decade and the beginning of the 1990s, parents and anti-vaccination activists had focused greater emphasis on autism, owing to an increase in the disorder’s prevalence rate. The increase was most likely due to a greater clinical grasp of the criteria, which allowed clinicians to identify more symptoms of the illness. The increased rates were a hint of a conspiracy for anti-vaccination advocates and parents who suspected something was wrong.

Andrew Wakefield & the Autism Vaccination Theory

Andrew Wakefield, a British academic, published an essay in The Lancet magazine in 1998. Wakefield and 12 colleagues published the findings of a research that found a link between a regular MMR vaccination (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and autism in the publication.

The study was limited, with just 12 participants, and the researchers reached unprovable results. Wakefield, on the other hand, went on the offensive, holding news conferences and appearing on television to criticize the practice of immunizing youngsters, which he described as a “moral problem.”

In 2000, a former Republican Congressman from Indiana named Dan Burton called a congressional hearing to request that the Department of Health and Human Services investigate Wakefield’s research after his grandson developed autism as a result of immunizations. The New York Times picked up on this. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the drive for “balanced coverage” fueled the anti-vaccination movement and raised suspicion of conventional medicine.

Later that year, Wakefield went on American television and said that vaccines were to blame for “an outbreak of autism,” echoing anti-vaccination activists’ talking points.

Fearful parents refused to allow their children get vaccinated, prompting public health professionals all across the globe to report an alarming reduction in MMR vaccination rates. Celebrities and politicians, whose statements were repeated by anti-vaccination campaigners, propagated horror tales of children “becoming” autistic after being vaccinated.

Unravel the Mysteries of a Conspiracy

The editors of The Lancet re-examined Wakefield’s work as a result of the heightened scrutiny. They discovered that Wakefield’s study had been supported by lawyers representing parents who had filed vaccine-related claims. Furthermore, several aspects of the original research were misrepresented in the paper, including the symptoms suffered by some of the youngsters (on which the conclusions of the article were based).

The UK General Medical Council, which is responsible for maintaining the country’s official registration of medical practitioners, investigated Wakefield. It accused him of being dishonest and engaging in professional misconduct.

He was found guilty of professional misconduct, putting the medical profession into contempt, and behaving with “callous disregard” for the safety of the children in his research by the council in 2010. He was removed from the UK’s medical register, essentially robbing him of his medical license and the ability to practice medicine. Wakefield refuted the allegations, claiming that he was and continues to be a victim of medical authorities in the United Kingdom.

No Harmful Association Between Vaccines & Autism

Wakefield’s paper was formally withdrawn by The Lancet in February 2010. The British Medical Journal performed its own examination the following year, determining that some of the youngsters in the research were not even autistic. Others in the research who were identified as having no concerns before to getting the vaccination had pre-existing developmental issues.

Hundreds of further studies were conducted as a result of the disagreement to see whether vaccinations were indeed the cause of autism. The findings were constant and good over a long period of time in medical publications all across the globe. Autism and vaccinations have no known, established, scientific, or credible relationship. Vaccinations do not cause autism, contrary to popular belief.

One of these research was just published in the JAMA journal in 2015. Researchers studied 96,000 youngsters to see which ones had got the MMR vaccination and which ones later had autism spectrum condition. The final conclusion was that the two incidents had “no adverse relationship.”

In 2002, the New England Journal of Medicine released a research of its own. In that study, 500,000 children from Denmark’s health registry were evaluated for neurodevelopmental deficits after vaccination. The study “provides substantial support against the concept that MMR vaccination causes autism,” the researchers found.

Autism & Vaccination Theories Today

Despite a mountain of evidence, autism vaccine hypotheses continue to be promoted at the highest levels of government. In 2015, Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate in the United States, reiterated a 2012 allegation about a small kid being autistic after getting “a massive shot.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of former President John F. Kennedy and nephew of Robert F. Kennedy, is a well-known vaccine skeptic who incorrectly claims that vaccinations are both hazardous and uncontrolled. STAT News, as well as other organizations and even members of Kennedy’s family, have thoroughly debunked these claims. Kennedy claims he is not a “anti-vaxxer,” but rather “advocates against regulatory corruption and in support of safer vaccines.”

Despite this, Kennedy has paid more anti-vaccination advertising on Facebook than anybody else. Stop Mandatory Vaccination, a for-profit business that also distributes incorrect and sensationalized “fake news” concerning vaccinations and autism, such as saying that the medical profession is “covering up the massacre of children,” is one of the organizations who aired Kennedy’s commercials.

The Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom rejected one of the group’s commercials for being deceptive and unfounded. The group’s owner was banned from GoFundMe for “spreading vaccination disinformation.”

Vaccination Theories & COVID-19

The anti-vaccination campaign has even stretched to the COVID-19 pandemic, with public health officials warning that activists may use social media to propagate falsehoods about a coronavirus vaccine’s ineffectiveness or outright danger.

Andrew Wakefield, who talked with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. during an online event in May 2020, is leading the effort. Both swapped conspiracy theories and allegations that the COVID-19 epidemic was being used by governments to compel obligatory vaccinations. These accusations are, once again, baseless and without merit.

Despite the fact that Wakefield’s research has been widely discredited, Kennedy has been chastised for his vaccine skepticism, and recent research has found that autism vaccination theories are unfounded, the organizer of the virtual event at which they both spoke said more than 30,000 people had signed up to attend.

Speakers at anti-vaccination rallies are seldom requested to give proof to back up their claims. They make strong claims with no evidence to back them up.

Why Do These Myths Survive?

The spread of these falsehoods is partly due to the use of social media. Memes are simple to spread, and soundbites may easily distort the facts. Videos are manipulated to be deceptive, and they are extensively distributed before being fact-checked or removed.

Desperate parents are looking for a single explanation for their child’s difficulties. They have an easy explanation if they can point to vaccines, rather than the complicated reality that there are numerous probable causes of autism spectrum disease, many of which are yet unknown.

Raising a kid with autism is fraught with uncertainties. Parents have no idea what their kid’s future holds, how their symptoms may worsen or improve over time, or how much independence their child will be able to achieve as an adult. Conspiracy theories provide a single point of blame and wrath in a world of ambiguity. Regrettably, all of these beliefs are unfounded, playing on parents’ concerns while offering little substance.

The roots of autism vaccine ideas are founded on bogus research, according to medical professionals. As autism research progresses, we will learn more about the causes of autism as well as the efforts we can take to better prevent and treat it.


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