I don't like to use autism together with that other word in the same sentence. That other word is vaccination. As a journalist, I feel that in wielding them side by side or in close proximity, I inevitably end up perpetuating the fictional link between the two--even if the sentence only repeats that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence points to zero connection between A and V.

The New York Times has a decent piece today about the public health risk caused by families that refuse to have their children vaccinated. Without getting tangled in an op-ed, let me just say that this trend is scary. Talk about scientific illiteracy is often a bit wonky and removed from real-world issues. Not this time. The fact that many of these parents are described as well-educated only drives home the point. (I also don't want to use "exempters" or "skeptics" when talking about the parents. It seems to whitewash culpability.) If devout Christian Scientists refuse to take a toddler to the hospital and the child subsequently dies from pneumonia, criminal charges will soon follow (one hopes). Yet these parents, who expose their kids to diseases like measles, and whose kids end up spreading the disease to other people in the community—this is substantially different?

As infuriating and frightening as some of this behavior may be, the quote I most appreciated in the Times article was more reflective, pulling away from the outraged tone that, as illustrated above, is rather easy to come by. Parents, after all, are engineered to worry about their children's health.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine.”

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AuthorDavid Wolman