So once again the topic of vaccines and autism pops up and the media is running with it because somebody famous has said something utterly daft. To be fair, media outlets do often balance things, for example the UKs Telegraph has the story and does underline that his claim is not factual. Let’s cut to the actual text within the article published a couple of days ago so you can see …
De Niro revealed last month that his 18-year-old son Elliot has autism, and said on Wednesday that he believes certain children are at risk of being harmed by vaccines.
The Godfather star is the latest celebrity to make such claims, which have been almost universally rejected by doctors but are accepted by a growing number of parents.
“There’s a lot of things that are not said,” he said on NBC’s Today Show. “I as a parent of a child who has autism am concerned, and I want to know the truth.”
De Niro, 72, made the comments after a film tying the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism was pulled from New York’s Tribeca film festival, which he co-founded.
The film, titled Vaxxed, sparked tremendous backlash for its anti-vaccine position, but the actor said everyone should see it because “there’s definitely something to it”.
OK, let’s address this directly … No there is nothing to it, the claim that “there’s definitely something to it” is (if I may borrow the wholly accurate and totally factual term) complete bullshit, and that is not an option, it is a fact.
Is there really nothing to it?
Yet sadly we have the article giving a platform to his daft claims …
He said on Wednesday that there is a “hysteria, a knee-jerk reaction” to dismiss concerns about vaccines, but that he has become convinced that there is a correlation of some sort.
… wrong, there is no hysteria, instead we have study after study after study confirming no link.
“I’m not a scientist but I know because I’ve seen so much reaction- let’s just find out the truth,” he said.
… correct, he is not a scientist, and yet here he is touting a position that is robustly rejected by those that are, and we do not need to find out the truth because we already know.
So why do these absurd statements merit a full news story? Well because he is famous and so this is where media conflicts of interest come into play. The media is of course driven by things other than the truth, and are instead going to live or die by the profit margin and so a story that tickles your interest makes the cut.
Sigh! … I’m on a bit of a rant today, but perhaps understandably so because it is a hot button, and it is perhaps news because it provokes and stirs up a reaction. I’m not alone because others are just as equally frustrated by it all …
Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said such comments by someone as respected as De Niro’s do an “enormous disservice” to parents.
Dr Offit says 15 studies had been conducted involving hundreds of thousands of children, and that each had found definitively that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism.
“I don’t know what parents want us to do,” he says. “We take their concerns seriously, we spend a lot of money trying to address those concerns, and the frustrating part is that when they are addressed people just choose not to believe it.”
Andrew Wakefield & Vaccines
This entire myth goes back to a UK Doctor named Andrew Wakefield who published a paper in 1998 that asserted a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. After publication other researchers attempted to duplicate his results and were unable to do it. It then later came to light that his entire paper was fraudulent and had no scientific basis at all. His motivation for discrediting MMR turned out to be financial and so the UK’s General Medical Council charged Wakefield with serious professional misconduct, including dishonesty. This led to a full and complete 217 day investigation that looking into the accusations and at the end of it all ruled against him and he has been barred from practising medicine in the UK.
As for the 1998 paper, The Lancet fully retracted it.
Sadly his legacy lives on today (thanks Mr De Niro), because the anti-vaccine movement still thrives and flourishes and as a result there are consequences.