The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Babyjabs.co.uk, a website offering advice about immunizations for children, to remove statements that the MMR vaccine “could be causing autism in up to 10% of autistic children in the UK” and not make such claims again.
Other claims that Babyjabs.co.uk has been ordered to remove and not repeat are that “most experts now agree that the large rise [in autism] has been caused partly by increased diagnosis, but also by a real increase in the number of children with autism,” as well as a claim that a “vaccine-strain measles virus” had been found in the gut and brain of some autistic children.
The ASA has told the Babyjabs site that such claims are “misleading” and that it cannot make them again.
My teenage son Charlie was diagnosed with autism in 1999, the year after Dr. Andrew Wakefield had published his infamous Lancet study linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Often it has seemed that this issue has dominated the mention of autism in the popular press, to the detriment of discussion about education and schools and long-term services and supports (housing, employment, quality of life concerns). The British medical journal The Lancet has since retracted Wakefield’s study.
Plenty of Misleading Information About Vaccines Is Still Out There
The Babyjabs site notes that Wakefield’s original claims of a link have been “strongly rejected by the government and the medical establishment.” But the site still hints at a link in statements such as “at the time of the introduction of the MMR, the number of cases of autism being diagnosed started to increase dramatically, and some feared that the MMR might have triggered this rise.” While saying that “research, including large population studies, has since shown that the MMR is not causing the large majority of autism,” the Babyjabs site says that such research “has been unable to exclude the possibility that it is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children.”
Following this statement, the site notes that the Advertising Standards Authority had required it “remove information relating to the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism” and then references a newspaper article about a 2012 decision by an Italian court that the MMR had “caused” autism in a 9-year-old boy.
The MMR vaccine has been on trial in the US in the autism omnibus proceedings, in which over 4,800 families contended that vaccines or something in vaccines had caused autism in their children; the US Court of Federal Claims found no such link. A legal decision is not the same as evidence from a scientific study and scientific evidence (here is one such study and here is another one) has accrued that refutes a link.
Fewer parents in the US have vaccinated their children in the wake of the well-publicized controversy linking vaccines to autism. It is good news that the ASA has ordered the Babyjabs site to remove misleading information but certainly plenty remains on the web. It is the case that some organizations and websites continue to associate autism with “vaccine injury” and to make statements such as “autism is closely correlated with a lessened ability to excrete toxins.”
I don’t think that the Internet will ever be “vaccine-autism link misinformation”-free anymore than it will ever be free of inaccuracies. But following the retraction of Wakefield’s study and with research into the genetics of autism growing, the notion of a vaccine-autism link no longer receives the attention it did and when it does — as in the ASA’s order to the Babyjabs site — it is to refute a very misleading claim.
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