As the country sees a measles flare-up, some politicians seem to jump on the anti-vaccine bandwagon, as the Washington Post reports. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for "some measure of choice" on vaccines by parents, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said that most vaccines should be voluntary. Both Republicans are expected to run for president in 2016.
Medical science says the evidence is clear that childhood vaccinations for such potentially dangerous diseases as measles, whooping cough and rubella are safe, with risks of protection far lower than the potential for permanent damage or even death the conditions can bring. And yet, a public debate on the subject -- often spearheaded by celebrity laypersons and promoted by various nonprofit organizations -- races on. Funding the organizations is a number of wealthy family foundations.
Media Campaign, Research Funded
The National Vaccine Information Center promotes concern about the risks of vaccinations through billboards, the giant Jumbotron display in Times Square and a film on Delta's (DAL) in-flight video network. Some of the money necessary came from the Dwoskin Family Foundation, set up by Alfred and Lisa Claire Dwoskin, which has donated $263,000 over time to the center, according to CNN Money.
From 2011 to 2013, the Dwoskins donated $950,000 to the University of British Columbia for research, at least some of which looked at potential links between aluminum in vaccines and neurological disorders. The couple's foundation put money into a film that suggested vaccines cause various childhood illnesses.
According to the foundation's website, it "has funded efforts focused on finding the root causes of immune, inflammatory and cognitive disorders in children and older adults."
Barry Segal created the foundation Focus for Health, "dedicated to advocacy, education, investigation, and research that explores the autism epidemic and the causes of chronic illness." Focus for Health donated $171,000 to another family foundation advocacy group called Generation Rescue, this one started by Lisa and J.B. Handley and now headed by television personality and former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy.
This mission is based on the acknowledged significant increases of previously rare autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that have become prevalent since the 1980s. These diseases include a wide range of conditions varying from asthma to autism and age related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
According to CNN Money, Generation Rescue has helps support former British doctor Andrew Wakefield, a co-author of the now-discredited 1998 paper that claimed a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism and set off the anti-vaccine movement. The Lancet, a leading medical journal that originally published the paper, eventually retracted it, and Wakefield lost his medical license.
Of course, nothing in science and medicine is simple, and there are significant unknowns. A recent study by Danish researchers suggests that 60 percent of the apparent increase in reports of autism spectrum disorder is due to "changes in diagnostic criteria and the inclusion of out-of-hospital diagnoses," according to CBS News. In 1994, diagnostic criteria changed the symptoms that are supposed to diagnose the disorder. That still leaves 40 percent of the causes of increased diagnoses unaccounted for, although there have been many studies that have refuted a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, according to the Immunization Action Coalition, an organization that works closely with the Centers for Disease Control.