Here’s the Birth of the Modern Anti-Vax Movement

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A New York Times video takes a look at the birth of the belief that vaccinations can cause autism in young children:

It turns on a seminal moment in anti-vaccination resistance. This was an announcement in 1998 by a British doctor who said he had found a relationship between the M.M.R. vaccine — measles, mumps, rubella — and the onset of autism.

Typically, the M.M.R. shot is given to infants at about 12 months and again at age 5 or 6. This doctor, Andrew Wakefield, wrote that his study of 12 children showed that the three vaccines taken together could alter immune systems, causing intestinal woes that then reach, and damage, the brain. In fairly short order, his findings were widely rejected as — not to put too fine a point on it — bunk. Dozens of epidemiological studies found no merit to his work, which was based on a tiny sample. The British Medical Journal went so far as to call his research “fraudulent.” The British journal Lancet, which originally published Dr. Wakefield’s paper, retracted it. The British medical authorities stripped him of his license.

Nonetheless, despite his being held in disgrace, the vaccine-autism link has continued to be accepted on faith by some. Among the more prominently outspoken is Jenny McCarthy, a former television host and Playboy Playmate, who has linked her son’s autism to his vaccination: He got the shot, and then he was not O.K. Post hoc, etc.

This is, of course, even crazier than it sounds. It’s one thing to be skeptical of the scientific community and its debunking of the Wakefield study. But it’s now 2015. MMR vaccines that contain thimerosal—the supposed cause of autism—have been off the market for well over a decade. Not one single child has gotten a dose of thimerosal since about 2002. And yet, autism rates haven’t gone down. They’ve gone up. You don’t need to trust scientists to see that, very plainly, thimerosal simply never played any role in autism. And there’s never been any reason to think that any other vaccine does either.

And yet, there’s apparently nothing that will convince certain parents of this. At least, if there is, no one has figured it out yet. Sigh.

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