Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

After the Debunking: Autism Parents Have Their Say

May 16, 2011

The majority of autism parents vaccinate their kids.

That’s a fact—despite a small but headline-grabbing band of parents who believe their autistic children are vaccine-injured. There is no evidence to support a vaccine-autism link, and irrefutable evidence supports vaccination as one of the best ways to protect the health and lives of children all over the world. Given this, what can we do to ensure that the influence of autism antivaccination misinformation keeps dwindling?

First, we have to understand why parents might believe vaccines are a cause of autism. In most cases, there is no identifiable reason for an autism diagnosis. Parents want answers that doctors and experts can’t give, and they can be easy prey for vaccine-injury fear mongering.

Early toddlerhood is when major vaccines like the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) are given—and also when autism symptoms often start to manifest. Parents who see vaccinations and autism happen in tandem may easily mistake coincidence for causation.

I have been one of those parents.

I blamed my son’s vaccines after he was diagnosed with autism in 2003, when he was two years old. Mainstream doctors and experts couldn’t give me guarantees that he’d catch up to his typical peers—only possibilities achieved through hard work and expensive therapies. On the other hand, antivaccination pseudoscience offered confident answers about the cause of his autism (vaccines), and quick autism “cures.”

In desperation, I fell for the pseudoscience. My need to find a concrete way to help my son trumped my personal experience. I used to live in West Africa, and saw the effects of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases in my University of Ghana classmates.  

Most American parents have never encountered the diseases we vaccinate our children against, thanks to the success of our National Vaccine Program. But those diseases are very real to me. Still, under the thrall of antivaccine misinformation, I rejected vaccines as a bigger risk.

That was in 2003. In the eight years since, theories of vaccine-autism causation have been debunked repeatedly and publicly. And as a result, I’ve resumed vaccinating all three of my children, including my son with autism.

Since 2010, the antivaccination movement’s most prominent figures have either been publicly exposed as frauds, or quietly drifted away from the front lines. But their legacy remains—in recent U.S. outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.

If we want to protect the health of our children, we need to take action.


And remember, your actions can improve the health of our kids—with autism, and without—all over the world.

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