Reality television personality Kristin Cavallari appeared on Fox News today and disclosed that she and her husband, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, are not vaccinating their children because they are worried about their offspring developing autism. In Cavallari’s words, “I’ve read too many books and studies.” She then went on to describe an anti-vaccination group she is a part of and how none of them have been vaccinated and they haven’t had one case of autism. Sounds like a pretty scientific study from Ms. Cavallari.
Sadly, Culter and Cavallari have fallen victim to conjecture and disproven theories and not only are putting their own children at risk, they are risking the health of other families around them. Just this month Nature Magazine published an article titled Public Health: An Injection of Trust which underscored how difficult and important it is to reach parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
From the Nature piece:
The re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases has become increasingly common worldwide. For example, in 2012 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, reported the largest number of US cases of pertussis (whooping cough) for nearly 60 years. In Japan, rubella cases leapt from 87 in 2010 to 5,442 in just the first 4 months of 2013. And in France, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 14,000 cases of measles in 2011. “There are lots of examples in wealthy, developed countries,” says Seth Berkley, chief executive of the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI) in Geneva, Switzerland. Given the narrow margins of ensuring protection against such outbreaks, even a few parents who refuse paediatric vaccination can jeopardize the control and elimination of diseases that are prominent killers of infants and children elsewhere in the world.
And on the fears of autism?
In fact, vaccines undergo extensive and continuous surveillance to identify adverse events overlooked during clinical trials. For example, the CDC operates the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) with nine large US ‘managed care organizations’, tracking data from more than 9 million individuals. “We can update these databases weekly, and thus virtually conduct real-time monitoring when a new vaccine is introduced,” says Frank DeStefano, director of the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office. Data from the VSD helped disprove the connection between MMR and autism, but have also identified real adverse events, such as when 197 children in a cohort of 1.8 million who had received the MMR vaccination developed immune thrombocytopaenic purpura4. “It’s a relatively benign blood disorder where there’s easy bruising and bleeding, but it can be scary,” says Jason Glanz, an epidemiologist affiliated with the VSD at the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Research in Denver, Colorado.
The CDC continues to fight the myth of a vaccine–autism link and recently demonstrated that there was no link between exposure to numerous vaccine antigens and autism5. “A substantial proportion of parents still have concerns along these lines,” says DeStefano. Leask notes that the MMR story draws strength from the lack of a robust biological explanation for autism. “This causal hunger drives people to look around for a culprit,” she says, adding that vaccines were once linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) until the medical community got a better understanding of the risk factors.
Unfortunately Cavallari didn’t say if Jay’s panleukopenia,calicivirus/herpesvirus, rabies and feline leukemia shots were up to date.