The anti-vaxx movement has seen continued prevalence in the United States, particularly with the claim that vaccines cause autism in children. Although it's easy for some to brush the movement off, the reality is that these beliefs have real, lasting consequences, even if they've been proven not to be true. Recently, scientists noted a disturbing pattern of falling vaccinations rates for children, and a new study has concluded that children with autism are often undervaccinated, as the Chicago Tribune reported.
The study, published this week in JAMA Pediatrics, looked at a sample of 3,729 children with autism and 592,907 children without. Researchers found that not only were autistic children less likely to be fully vaccinated for vaccines recommended between 4 and 6 years old, but their younger siblings were also less likely to be fully vaccinated, as CNN reported.
"They’re not getting the rest of their vaccinations, so that was a big surprise," lead author Ousseny Zerbo said of the findings, according to the Chicago Tribune. "This study is showing that the children with autism and their younger siblings might be at higher risk of the vaccine-preventable diseases."
Although the study itself didn't specify why autistic children and their siblings aren't fully vaccinated, the research ties into larger concerns and dangers around the anti-vaxx movement and parents' fears that there's a connection between vaccines and autism. To be clear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines do not cause autism.
Falling vaccination rates have been noted for a couple years and measles has seen the highest number of outbreaks, according to CNN. The CDC reported that in the 2013-2014 school year, while 95 percent of children did have basic vaccinations, that figure wasn’t reasonably spread throughout the country. For example, in December 2014, a measles outbreak at Disneyland in Orange County, California sickened 111 people and spread to six other states, as well as Canada and Mexico, according to the CDC.
Although measles is a preventable disease, it can be fatal; the CDC reports that one out of every 20 children will contract pneumonia, which is the leading cause of death for children with measles.
A Pew Research Center survey released in 2015 found that younger Americans (18-29) were more likely than older respondents to believe childhood vaccinations should be a choice, with 41 percent saying parents should decide. Speaking to the continued legacy of Andrew Wakefield’s discredited paper — which falsely linked vaccines to autism, according to STAT — the survey found that 15 percent of people thought MMR, and other vaccines, were unsafe; 8 percent were uncertain. These results, and their particularly to a younger generation, spoke to the shifting landscape regarding vaccinations.
The idea of rejecting vaccines because a child may become autistic is firmly rooted in ableism, but specifically, complete devaluing of disabled lives, which autistic writers have covered. In addition, rejecting vaccinations for preventable diseases based on work debunked work like Wakefield’s puts children who medically cannot receive vaccines in dangerous positions.
The CDC has a guideline for parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids, which includes notes on travel. Although some imagine it’s easy to isolate their children if they get sick, in order to avoid infecting others, the reality is diseases can become transmittable in their incubation period, or the time where symptoms aren’t visible.
In May 2017, the Somali community in Minneapolis was predominantly targeted by those claiming childhood vaccines were linked to autism. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 63 cases had been reported statewide by May 16, were 53 of those cases were Somali. The department’s disease director, Kris Ehresmaan, said anti-vaccination groups targeted the community, according to Voa News. This included specific events and even translating the anti-vaccine documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” into Somali.
This poses an issue, when seeing how anti-vaccination campaigns take advantage of already vulnerable populations and their complicated history with medical fields. Black people have fair reason to be critical, from the story of Henrietta Lacks to the Tuskegee Experiment and beyond. But, taking advantage of those fears and other barriers is uncomfortable and detrimental to those communities, reducing them to pawns.
Linking vaccines to autism sets it up so autistic people are unable to control their own narratives, making it difficult for autistic children to receive the support that they need. For now, researchers and scientists are attempting to combat false information around autism and vaccinations. Hopefully, rates will cease falling, and autistic children in particular will continue to receive necessary vaccinations again.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.