Conspiracy theories have been around for millennia. Many of these have real-world consequences. One example of this is the theory of an autism-vaccine link.

A nurse holds a vaccine syringe
A nurse holds a vaccine syringe.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Vaccine conspiracy theories have been around since the beginning of vaccination. However, in modern times this abject speculation around vaccines has gained many more followers. Much of this is due to social media. Some of these are harmless pseudoscience such as flat-earthers. However, there are also many that are not harmless. The most pervasive and best example in the latter category is the theory about vaccines causing autism.

Anti-Vaxxers are Scientifically Illiterate

A depiction of DNA, the actual cause of autism.
A depiction of DNA, the actual cause of autism.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Anti-vaxxers are scientifically illiterate. They create illogical theories that are easily contradicted with the basics of science. There is no evidence of any link between autism and vaccines. As with most conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers ignore the evidence that opposes their position. Instead, they cling to made-up facts that support them. However, science does not work as they wish.

Many studies have debunked this theory. One of the most recent examples of this is a Danish study released in 2019. It tested “the hypothesized link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) vaccine and autism” on 657,461 kids. This study found no connection between the vaccine and autism.

Scientists believe that autism is predominantly genetic. While I have very mixed feelings on prenatal research, it has a useful purpose here. Recent studies have found many genes involved in the neurotype. Recent studies For instance, in January 2020, published research linked over 100 genes to it. As a result, the genetic nature of autism is pretty well-established in the scientific community today.

Anti-Vaxxers Take Advantage of Scared Parents

 A nurse prepares a vaccine for her patient.
A nurse prepares a vaccine for her patient.
Image by Jason Taix from Pixabay

Most anti-vaxxers target scared parents. They are badly exploiting parents’ fear of perceived side effects. The anti-vax community leaders are con-men and con-women, who are turning these parents against their kids. Most conspiracy theorists prey on the vulnerable, and anti-vaxxers are no exception.

People should not lie. It is especially true when it comes to vaccines because of the health aspect. Anti-vaxxers make parents feel guilty about their own choices regarding their child’s health. So parents are much less likely to vaccinate their future children, thus putting them at risk of a potentially deadly infection.

Parents should talk through their fears with people who can give advice. These include, for instance, the parents of other autistic kids. It also includes autistic people themselves, as we are the experts on our own lives. By spreading propaganda, anti-vaxxers often undermine this. Their propaganda makes people suspicious of the medical establishment, creating other health concerns.

Anti-Vaxxers Spread Fear, Stigma, and Hatred

Anti-vaxxers often spread hatred and stigma.
Anti-vaxxers often spread hatred and stigma.
Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

Whether it’s due to trolls on the Internet who use “autistic” as an insult or YouTube videos of meltdowns, very vulnerable moments for us, to “spread awareness,” autistic people deal with a lot of nonsense. One of the most widespread examples of this stigma we deal with is pathologization. This viewpoint is constantly stoked by anti-vaxxers. Anti-vaxxers constantly stoke this viewpoint.

The anti-vax community’s fearmongering plays a direct role in this societal stigma. For instance, Robert Kennedy, Jr., one of the biggest names in the anti-vax world, has used fear and hate to spread his message. For example, in 2015, he compared autism and vaccines to the killing of the Jews by the Nazis. To him, our very existence is equivalent to genocide.

Another example of this is within their arguments in general. By arguing that autism is a reason to forgo vaccination against deadly diseases, they say that autism is worse than them. This, in addition to their repeated claims of it being an epidemic, suggests they see us as a disease that needs to be eradicated. This is an incredibly dangerous mindset and hurts us when we try to gain acceptance in society. That hatred may be subtle to ears that are not tuned to it, but it is obvious to us.

Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are not a harmless fringe group. In areas where they congregate, they can damage public health. However, their damage goes far beyond that. They are also detrimental to other aspects of society, far beyond their immediate geographic area.