Home > Babies and Toddlers > Health and Safety > Immunizations and Vaccines > A Closer Look at the Vaccine Debate

A Closer Look at the Vaccine Debate

Just as the U.S. was on the verge of eradicating measles by the year 2000, a medical journal in the United Kingdom called The Lancet published a paper in 1998 that shook global confidence in the safety of the MMR vaccine. The paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed there might be a link between autism and the vaccine. Wakefield sensationalized his study in a press conference, calling MMR vaccination a "moral issue" and something he could no longer support. But The Lancet retracted Wakefield's paper in 2010 after an investigation revealed that he distorted the data and acted unethically. The U.K. revoked Wakefield's medical license that same year, calling him "irresponsible and dishonest."

The British Medical Journal published a series of investigative reports in 2011 detailing Wakefield's fraud. He had not disclosed a major conflict of interest: he had received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from a law firm that intended to sue MMR vaccine manufacturers. He altered information provided by parents whose children were part of the 12-person case study, falsifying the timing of vaccinations and the onset of developmental issues. BBC News also reported that Wakefield paid children at his son's birthday party 5 pounds each for blood samples to use in his study. The media reported on Wakefield's "elaborate fraud," but by then the misinformation had spread.

Concerns About Mercury
Meanwhile, concerns about mercury in vaccines grew in the 2000s. Some vaccines contained a preservative called thimerosal, which contains a form of mercury (ethylmercury — which is not the same as toxic methylmercury found in fish). In 1999, a group of physicians in the U.S. launched a study on the effects of thimerosal on infants' brain development. The study found "no significant associations" between thimerosal-containing vaccines and neurodevelopment. The U.S. eliminated thimerosal from vaccines (other than some flu vaccines) in 1999 to help maintain the public's confidence in vaccines — but their efforts backfired. The notion of making safe vaccines even safer confused people.

Extensive U.S. studies and high-profile U.S. federal court cases in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding have found no link between vaccines and autism, but some parents struggled to understand or accept these scientific and legal findings. A 2009 Pediatrics study found that more than half of parents surveyed had concerns about serious side effects of vaccines.

The media focused more on parents' fears than scientific facts, and gave famous vaccine skeptics — including Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Bobby Kennedy Jr. — a platform to spread their beliefs.

Autism Experts Urge Full Vaccination
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that most experts agree that autism is a condition that begins before birth. Autism is often first identified in toddlers from age 18 months to 30 months, and the MMR vaccine is administered just before the peak age of autism onset. "This timing leads some parents to mistakenly assume a causal relationship," the AAP says. "There is no evidence that MMR causes autism." The AAP offers this summary of 40 studies on vaccine safety, and encourages parents to have their children fully vaccinated.

Autism Speaks, a leading autism advocacy organization, also supports full vaccination and released this brief statement in February 2015 in the wake of the measles outbreak: "Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated."



Special Books for the Kids You Love
Celebrate 20 years of sharing love to the moon and back with the anniversary edition of Guess How Much I Love You, one of the world’s best-loved picture books. Plus, search our Book Finder for more great book picks. Brought to you by Candlewick Press.

Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Top 10 Math & Science Apps for Your Whiz Kid
Looking for the best math and science apps for kids? Check out these cool apps for all ages, which will grow your child's love of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks