No, Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

Sooo this has been bothering me for the past 2 days. I really want to correct the record on vaccines.

Trump nominated Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a committee on vaccine safety. RFK Jr. is a noted “anti-vax” person, meaning he believes vaccines cause problems for children.

This is a very serious issue. This goes beyond protecting freedom of speech, or the rights of parents to do what they want with their kids.

This is an issue that can cost people their lives and put the health of the entire country at risk.

Let’s get down to the facts and debunk some myths out there about immunizations.

Myth #1: Vaccines cause autism.

This myth started in 1998, when an article was published in the Lancet (a renowned medical journal published in the UK)

It claimed that the MMR vaccine (the vaccine that protects you against Measles, Mumps and Rubella) caused children to develop autism.

It’s been thoroughly debunked in 4 ways:

  1. The study has since been called “a fraud” by the British Medical journal, and was retracted by the Lancet.

2. 10 of the 12 authors of the study have retracted their theory that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The 11th author couldn’t be contacted, and the 12th researcher… well, see #3.

3. The only author who stood by the research ended up having his medical license revoked. Turns out he doctored the records and numbers in the report… yeesh

4. It also later came out that the patients used in the study were recruited by anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and paid for by a group that planned to sue the vaccine manufacturers.

Myth #2: Mercury in vaccines causes autism and developmental disorders when given to infants.

K, first of all, there hasn’t been mercury in infant vaccines since 2003.

Second, the mercury used in vaccines (ethylmercury) is VERY different than the mercury in, say, tuna (methylmercury).

Comparing the two is like comparing a shot of alcohol to a shot of antifreeze — they are processed completely differently by the body and the mercury in vaccines is much, much safer.

(For more on this check out these great resources from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).

Ok, now we gotta address the thing where people argue:

“Ok but I know what’s best for my kid, and I should be the only one who can make the decision on whether they’re vaccinated or not.”

The reason why is because when you choose not to vaccinate your kid, it doesn’t just affect your child. It puts the most vulnerable people in our society at risk.

Top understand how, we gotta get into herd immunity.

Herd Immunity explained

Herd Immunity explains why parents should still vaccinate their kids. Here’s how it works.

There are certain people who can’t get vaccines, like infants, or adults with compromised immune systems (due to cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other illnesses).

The immune systems of people in this category are not strong enough to process the vaccine and develop immunity. So we protect them by getting vaccines ourselves.

That’s where the “herd” part of herd immunity comes in.

When people get vaccinated, they are acting as a shield for the people who can’t get vaccinated against contagious diseases.

Sooo when people don’t immunize their kids, they are putting cracks in that shield, allowing diseases to spread. Like what happened in 2015 with the measles.

So why do people still believe this vaccines-cause-autism stuff?

Well, sometimes it’s not enough to give people the facts. Sometimes we let emotion overtake reason.

Check out this study. A team of researchers surveyed a group of parents in 2011.

They sent scientific information debunking the vaccine-autism link to random houses in that group.

The research found that the problem was getting parents to believe the facts (most of the parents who received the information were more likely to vaccinate their kids).

What researchers observed was just the topic of vaccination prompted skeptical parents to grasp at straws to defend their views even more strongly.

There’s this psychological theory called motivated reasoning, that says our reasoning and our emotions are intertwined (not surprising to you I’m sure).

There have been some fascinating studies on this (Like this one and This one) that show how our pre-existing beliefs can sometimes overrule hard facts.

So why isn’t solid evidence more effective in resolving political debates?

In 2013, Yale Law professor Dan Kahan set out to test just that. Kahan found that “individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.”

Whew, glad I got all of that out. Science is science! And it bothers me so much when politics ignores straight up science.

Btw, here is a list of all of the links from the explainer you just crushed :)


PM @ The Infatuation, Cofounder of Purple

PM @ The Infatuation, Cofounder of Purple