In The Politics of Autism, I discuss how celebrities and pop culture have spread the debunked notion that vaccines cause the condition:
In 2003, a group of autism parents organized the National Autism Association to encourage self-help and promote “vaccine safety.” Two years later, Lisa and J.B. Handley founded Generation Rescue to recover children whose autism purportedly started with vaccines. The group gained a key supporter in actress Jenny McCarthy, who believed that vaccines had caused her own son’s autism. McCarthy, who had already gained a great deal of publicity for the vaccine theory by discussing it on the Oprah Winfrey show, became the group’s president. (It briefly called itself “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s autism organization,” but the celebrity couple split in 2010. )At USA Today, Maria Puente reports that Robert DeNiro went on Today and re-entered the fight over a film on vaccines and autism:
As press attention went up and stars spoke out, the entertainment media weighed in. In a 2005 episode of “The Shield,” a police detective and his ex-wife contemplated joining a vaccine lawsuit after their two of their children got a diagnosis. They talked to a pediatrician, who refused to help them with the suit because the science does not support the vaccine theory. The detective smelled an ulterior motive: “How many shots with thimerosal have you prescribed to kids? Saying that they’ve been poisoning our kids is just like admitting you've been doing it all along, right?” The 2008 premiere of the short-lived ABC series “Eli Stone” was about a child who had become autistic because of “mercuritol” – a fictional name for thimerosal.
De Niro, the father of an autistic child, at first defended the film as a conversation starter, then a few days later said the conversation had grown too angry and the film was being pulled from the festival.
But on Today, he defended the film again, saying he personally believes there is a link between vaccines and autism, at least for some children, and that few in science or medicine were doing enough to explore the possibility.
He said he just wants "to know the truth."
"I'm not anti vaccine, I want safe vaccines," he said. He said everyone should see Vaxxed because "there's definitely something to it."
But numerous studies by doctors and medical researchers have not found any such link. Moreover, Vaxxed and its creator have been discredited: It was directed by Andrew Wakefield, the "father" of the anti-vaccine movement, who first linked vaccinations and autism in a 1988 [sic: 1998] report that later had to be retracted. Also, his medical license was revoked.