The controversy over vaccination is grabbing the headlines again. Never mind that the “intellectual” father of the MMR-childhood autism connection, Dr. Wakefield, was exposed as a fraud and his infamous paper was retracted. He was censured by the British Medical Society and was barred from ever practicing medicine in the U.K. Never mind that the National Academy of Medicine found absolutely no link between autism and MMR vaccination after reviewing over 350 papers on the subject.


An unrepentant fraudster

If the outbreak proves anything, it’s Wakefield’s enduring legacy. Even years after he lost his medical license, years after he was shown to have committed numerous ethical violations, and years after the retraction of a medical paper that alleged a vaccine-autism link, his message resonates. Facebook is populated by pages like “Dr. Wakefield’s Work Must Continue.” There’s the website called “We Support Andrew Wakefield,” which peddles the Wakefieldian doctrine. And thousands signed petitions pledging support.

We are with Wakefield Source: Darryl Cunningham investigates
We are with Wakefield
Source: Darryl Cunningham investigates

Under such circumstances, most doctors would retreat into obscurity. But not Wakefield. So, where is Dr. Wakefield hiding now? In plain view, in Texas, of course, the home of libertarianism. The anti-vaxxers find a true martyr in Wakefield, who still preaches the gospel of anti-vaccination from Texas. To them, he is a man who has sacrificed everything to take on powerful pharmaceutical companies and the biggest villain of all—the government. “To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” J.B. Handley, Co-Founder of a group that disputes vaccine safety, told the N.Y. Times.

Persuading skeptical parents to vaccinate their children has grown more difficult because of concerns about a possible link between vaccines and autism—now thoroughly debunked by science. Their anti-vaccination arguments have expanded to more general, and equally groundless, worry about the effects of multiple shots on a child’s immune system.


Who are these people?

The Los Angeles Times published an outraged editorial. It didn’t blame Disneyland, where the outbreak originated before going on to infect 70 people across six states. Nor did it blame any public agency. Instead, it took aim at a buoyant movement that won’t

“get over its ignorant and self-absorbed rejection of science.

They often suggest that vaccination is motivated by profit and is an infringement of personal liberty and choice; vaccines violate the laws and nature and are temporary or ineffective; and good hygiene is sufficient to protect against disease,” said a 2008 editorial in Nature.

The Washington Post highlighted a graph that starkly illustrates the measles resurgence. The accompanying article noted a study that “found that only 51% of Americans were confident that vaccines are safe and effective, which is similar to the proportion who believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts.”

You’d think that the latest outbreak would give these true believers reason to rethink their beliefs. No such luck. A publication calling itself Natural News ran a piece headlined “Afraid of the Disneyland measles outbreak? Don’t be fooled by Mickey Mouse science—READ THIS FIRST.” The website published a commentary headlined “Vaccine risks the government won’t tell you about.”

In the past 5 years, the percentage of kindergartners in California who are up to date on all vaccinations has held pretty steady from 90.7% in the 2010-11 school year to 90.4% in 2014-15. But there are some wealthy communities in Los Angeles and Orange counties and in Northern California with double-digit vaccination exemption rates. The Wall Street Journal reported that the “vast majority of cases are in Southern California.” The WSJ added that Mark Sawyer, professor of clinical pediatrics at UC San Diego, said that in some schools around San Diego, including some upper-middle-class neighborhoods, 20% to 30% of children aren’t immunized. The WSJ quoted Sawyer saying,

“It’s because these people are highly educated and they get on the Internet and read things and think they can figure things out better than their physician.”


What makes them tick?

Starting from fundamental evolutionary psychology principles, it is pretty well established that our brains crave order and abhor uncertainty. This is why people invented supra-natural explanations (gods of various persuasions and capabilities) to bring order to a chaotic and menacing universe. Conspiracy theories are close cousins of metaphysical explanations of life; both are pure inventions of the mind, without basis in reality.

We usually associate paranoid views of government with right-wing libertarians. Turns out nobody has a monopoly on either paranoia or the libertarian worldview. The vaccination opposition inhabits the political left, which has long been suspicious of the lobbying power of the pharmaceutical industry and its influence on government regulators, and also the fringe political right, which has at different times seen vaccination, fluoridation and other public-health initiatives as attempts by big government to impose tyrannical limits on personal freedom.


The effects of money on behavior

But this doesn’t explain the concentration of anti-vaxx ideologists in wealthy communities. Kathleen Voh and her colleagues studied the effects of money on behavior. Some of the conclusions in her study on “The Psychological Consequences of Money” give us part of the answer. The results of her 9 experiments suggest that money brings about self-sufficient, but also more self-centered, orientation in which people prefer to be free of dependency and dependents. Translated to the issue of MMR vaccination: I am entitled to do whatever I damn please with my child, the risk to other children (immunocompromised due to chemotherapy, children post radiation therapy, children on immunosuppressant drugs) is really their problem.

Still, not all wealthy people are self-centered; many are not. So what goes on in the brains of the ones that are?

We have a two-layered mechanism for making decisions. Layer one is rapid and impulsive. It is responsible for forming the first impression of a person we just met, or making a snap decision to jump out of the way of an approaching car. The second layer is slower and more contemplative. It re-examines our initial reaction in light of more extensive evidence. But there is a caveat: The brain is basically lazy. If it can get away (be satisfied) with initial impressions as being good enough, it will let them stand. Of course, this is not really laziness—it has survival value. If we second guessed every decision we made, we’d end up making none. And the energetic cost of all this brain activity would be unsustainable. Which explains why we look for the easy way out in making decisions, and why it is so difficult to change our minds.

When a mother hears Katie Couric, Michelle Bachmann, or the actress Jenny McCarthy spouting their anti-vaccine message day in and day out on “The View” and other TV daytime shows, she easily understands and accepts it, and the message gets firmly embedded in her unconscious brain. Her layer one accepted it, and layer two was not activated; have you seen many infectious disease experts, or epidemiologists, on “The View” lately?

And this, I think, is the toxic brew that poisoned the minds of those wealthy people who refuse to vaccinate their children—uncritical thinking, coupled with self-centeredness and a sense of entitlement. And I used to think that these traits were reserved for the uneducated poor…what an irony.

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.


  1. It isn’t only the “Rich”, but the poor, educated or “uneducated”, and peoples of every color and creed who are waking up. Vaccines are harming our children. There are NO scientific double blind studies using a non-adjuvant placebo that prove vaccines are effective and SAFE. However, there is an experiment taking place right now regarding vaccine safety. The results of which can be found on the vaccine inserts, on the CDC website, and purportedly as 1% of the data known as the adverse events or side effects with VAERS. These are all the REPORTED side effects. We, our children, are the test subjects. We, our children are the guinea pigs.
    ignore the facts if you like.
    Spin it any way you like.
    But understand this:
    My son got hives 24 -36 hours after taking antibiotics. Doctor said, “it’s the antibiotic – stop taking it!”
    My Mom got violently ill after taking a pain remedy “it’s the remedy – stop taking it!”
    A child starts seizing, regresses, dies, etc within hours of a vaccine – doctor says, “Babies die of “SIDS” and we don’t know why, but we ‘know’ it’s not the vaccines! It’s just a coincidence …”
    (riddle me this: how do they know vaccines do not cause SIDS when they don’t actually know the cause? They cannot scientifically rule it out. Ethically they should not rule it out.)
    SIDS occur at 2, 4, (and 6 months) at a higher rates than other age groups, which aligns with the vaccine schedule of 6 to 8 vaccines. – Coincidence? I don’t think so. It is called VIDS.
    “SIDS mortality rate in the period zero to three days following DPT to be 7.3 times that in the period beginning 30 days after immunization” Coincidence? I don’t think so. But don’t take my word for it:!po=22.3214

  2. To be technical:
    Vaccines may not “cause” autism.
    Autism is a behavioral diagnosis. In order to receive the diagnosis of “Autism” a child must exhibit a certain number of behaviors over a certain time frame. If he or she does not do so, the diagnosis of “autism” is not warranted.
    There is no blood test for “autism.” “Autism” can’t be confirmed or “ruled-out” by laboratory analysis. It’s strictly a behavioral diagnosis. Therefore, anything that causes physiological damage cannot directly “cause” autism.
    Ergo… vaccines cannot “cause” “autism.”
    Vaccines cause other stuff.
    Vaccines cause encephalitis.
    Vaccines cause seizures.
    Vaccines cause immune system deficiencies.
    Vaccines cause gastrointestinal problems.
    Encephalitis causes mood swings.
    Encephalitis causes extreme pain.
    Encephalitis causes inattention and impulsivity.
    Encephalitis causes aggression.
    Encephalitis causes balance problems and difficulty relating to one’s environment.
    Seizures cause mood swings.
    Seizures cause inattention and impulsivity.
    Seizures cause alterations in conciousness.
    Immune system deficiencies cause children to have more frequent bacterial infections, such as ear infections, upper respiratory infections (URIs), sinusutis, and strep infections.
    Immune system deficiencies cause children to have more frequent viral infections, such as stomatitis, “fevers of unknown origin,” “viral rashes,” hives, conjunctivitis, and gastrointestinal viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea.
    Immune system deficiencies cause children to be more vulnerable to “everything that’s going around” and to have a tougher time getting over things than their peers.
    Gastrointestinal damage from vaccines causes diarrhea.
    Gastrointestinal damage from vaccines causes nausea, reflux, vomiting, and the recently discovered “disease” now known as GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease).
    Gatrointestinal damage from vaccines causes increased vulnerability to viruses and bacteria, which leads to increased administration of antibiotics, which leads to overgrowth of pathogenic yeast.
    Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to intestinal hyperpermeability (“leaky gut syndrome”).
    Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to constipation.
    Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to food allergies.
    Pathogenic yeast overgrowth leads to skin eruptions, “drunken, silly behavior,” inattention and impulsivity, and cravings for bread, sugar, ice cream, milk, and carbohydrates.
    Technically, vaccines do not cause autism because techincally there is no such thing as autism.
    Vaccines cause the underlying physical conditions that result in the pain, neurological damage, immune system disorders, gastrointestinal damage, and yeast overgrowth – all of which combine to produce the behavioral symptoms that result in the “autism” diagnosis.
    Gastrointestinal damage is the most obvious result of vaccine damage.
    When a previously healthy child suddenly starts having multiple episodes of watery and extremely stinky diarrhea every day, and this happens shortly after receiving vaccinations, it is notable as a “vaccine injury.”
    What is not so obvious is that when the child’s gut is permanently damaged, he or she is no longer able to absorb nutrients necessary to produce neurotransmitters necessary for proper brain function. So when the child develops mood swings, sleep difficulties, and learning disabilities several months later, these issues are not recognized as being related to the vaccine injury because the initial damage occurred many months earlier.
    but hey….
    ignore the facts if you like.
    Spin it any way you like.

    educate before you vaccinate

  3. People are not ignorant for refusing to vaccinate their children. It is completely reasonable to doubt the safety of the products that pharmaceutical companies are creating. Those companies have made many grave mistakes and are potential making some that the experts aren’t aware of yet. It’s not just autism that anti-vaxxers are concerned about. “People who want to believe will not be persuaded”, I could say the same about this author. Let’s say the CDC schedule for vaccination was completely safe for a child that is of perfect health. Perhaps vaccine injuries are only prevelent among children who do have issues epigenetically, or have a hormonal imbalance or who don’t have a perfectly functioning immune system. Perhaps the parents that are backing away from the CDC’s schedule for vaccination are sensing that their child may not be in perfect health. Maybe a delayed schedule is safer. Maybe choosing single vaccinations instead of the bundled ones is a better choice for those children. We need to get past the labeling people as vaxers or antivaxers. It’s realizing that one path might not be the right path for everyone. There are plenty of physicians who do not agree with the CDC’s schedule and plenty who believe vaccinations are indeed dangerous.

  4. Im fully vaccinated and autistic. Don’t believe your doctor who gets paid to poison you and your children. Because of vaccines i will never get to live a normal life.

  5. Most “anti vaccinators” I have come across were once pro vaccine that now have vaccine injured children. To ignore that fact that people have been injured by vaccines is irresposible. I have many friends that vaccinate on a different schedule than what the CDC recommends. When I brought my 9 pound baby to her “well visit” at 8 weeks old and was informed she would be getting 9, yes 9, vaccines at that visit it raised a red flag. According to a certain scientist he was quoted saying a baby’s immune system could handle 100 vaccines in one visit. From the looks of the current schedule compared to the schedule when I was born, it seems to be headed in that direction. I wouldn’t go for 61 doses within four years… So why would I do that to my child. Sometimes it isn’t all or nothing. And parents and children shouldn’t be penalized for that.

    • The paper describing a correlation between vaccination and autism was shown to be not only erroneous, it was outright fraudulent and the author was barred from engaging in research and in practicing medicine. But once you ring a bell it is impossible to un-ring it. People who want to believe will not be persuaded. Childhood autism is shown to be affected by environmental factors, probably through epigenetic mechanisms. But vaccination is not one of them.
      The doctor who said that a baby can handle 100 vaccines did not suggest that this is what needs to be done. Rather, he pointed out that the immune response of the baby can handle it. And in this he was right.

      • Hey, what about all the published research that has shown to support Dr. Wakefield?

        looks to me like 28 published studies in this link alone..

        Do you have studies to support your position? If so, who funded those studies? Big Pharma?

        Also how do you weigh in on the recent proceedings in vaccine court and in US and european courts awarding monetary compensation to families with autism based on damages from the MMR vaccine?

        • Wakefield was exonerated!

          “It all began on May 17th, 1995, when Dr. Andrew Wakefield received a call from a mother who told him that her child was developing normally before receiving an MMR vaccination. After the vaccine, her child regressed into autism and began suffering from terrible gastrointestinal problems. She told him there were other children she knew of with the same story.

          In February 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Prof. John Walker Smith, Dr. Simon Murch, and 10 other co-authors published a case study of 12 children in the Lancet, a British Medical Journal. The case study of these 12 autistic children with gastrointestinal disease stated the following:

          “Findings: Onset of behavioral symptoms was associated, by the parents, with measles, mumps, rubella vaccination in 8 of the 12 children.” Lancet 1998
          The researchers were correctly reporting information as collected, as they would in any case study. But Wakefield went on to publicly bring attention to the possibility that the MMR vaccine might be a causal factor in autism, and he recommended that parents choose the individual measles, mumps, and rubella shots (spaced out over time) rather than the MMR combination vaccine.”

          Also, it wasn’t just him, it was a team of doctors; * John Walker-Smith, FRCP (co-principal author)
          * Simon Harry Burch, MD (co-principal author)
          * A. Anthony, MB (co-author)
          * J. Linnell, PhD (co-author)
          * D.M. Casson, MRCP (co-author)
          * M. Malik, MRCP (co-author)
          * M. Berelowitz, FRCPsych (co-author)
          * A.P. Dhillon, MRCPath (co-author)
          * M.A. Thomson, FRCP (co-author)
          * P. Harvey, FRCP (co-author)
          * A. Valentine, FRCR (co-author)
          * S.E. Davies, MRCPath (co-author)

          • You are wrong. He has not been exonerated. There are several updates about him in reputable media outlets such as Vox ( and the Guardian ( Quoting from a blog does not make it so. Vaccines save lives, fake news has the potential to take them. Please learn how to distinguish between conspiracy theories and stories with an agenda and those that are coming from more reputable sources. Here is a link to a story on the topic that may help:

          • Here is the true story if you’re willing to be open minded enough to hear it.

            1. His work was not a scientific “study.”

            Wakefield et al actually published a “paper”. Scientific papers are designed to answer a simple question. In this case the question was; do children with regressive autism have chronic enterocolitis?

            2. “His paper claimed the MMR caused autism.”
            Wakefield et al’s conclusions documented in his paper: “We identified associated gastrointestinal (GI) disease and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.”

            He does NOT say the MMR vaccine causes autism or even that the GI disease was caused by the MMR. He answered the simple question that yes… GI disease and developmental regression was seen in a group of “previously normal children”. Wakefield et al’s conclusion is now validated with the weight of scientific data.

            We now know that gastrointestinal disease is closely related to autism; “microbiome-CNS signaling”, “gut bacteria may contribute to ASD”, “overlaps with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and autoimmunity”, “microbiome growth”, “Maladaptive behaviors correlate with GI problems”, “dietary factors may play a role as secondary triggers of autism”, “gastrointestinal dysfunction characterizes a subset of children with ASD”, “immune reactivity to gluten”, “affected activity of brain regions”, “addressing GI problems”, and on and on (science references).

            His paper’s conclusions were REPLICATED and proven true:

            Walker, S., Fortunato, J., Gonzalez, L., Krigsman, A. (2013). Identification of unique gene expression profile in children with regressive autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and ileocolitis. PlosOne. Retrieved from…/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal…
            “Taken as a whole, the picture that emerges is one in which GI symptomatic children with ASD in whom cellular infiltrate is present in the ileum and colon have a distinct molecular signature that is consistent with the larger disease categories of gastrointestinal disease, and more specifically, overlaps with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and autoimmunity.”

            Krigsman et al. (2010). Clinical presentation and histologic findings at ileocolonoscopy in children with autistic spectrum disorder and chronic gastrointestinal sysmptoms. Libertas Academia. Retrieved from
            Conclusions: Patients with autism or related disorders exhibiting chronic gastrointestinal symptoms demonstrate ileal or colonic inflammation upon light microscopic examination of biopsy tissue. Further work is needed to determine whether resolution of histopathology with appropriate therapy is accompanied by GI symptomatic and cognitive/behavioral improvement.

            3. “Wakefield was charged with “fraud”, or “forged data”
            The data in question was the pathology reports that showed gastointestinal disease. Wakefield was not in charge of evaluating the pathology reports in this paper that was the charge of Dr. John O’ Leary an independent Dublin pathologist. Dr. O’Leary stands by his reports, and they are not challenged by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC).

            The UK General Medical Council charged Wakefield with serious professional misconduct and sanction, Wakefield was found guilty by the GMC (General Medical Council, pg. 7 & 9).

            Professor Walker-Smith was also charged with and found guilty of serious professional misconduct and sanction, just as Wakefield. The description of the charges were similar with one variation being the monies given to Wakefield via the Legal Aid Board (LAB). On appeal all of the GMC’s rulings toward Walker-Smith were overturned. The UK High Court’s Mr. Justice Mitting criticized the U.K. General Medical Council, stating its judgment had been “based on inadequate and superficial reasoning” (High Court Of Justice, 2010).

            The claims of the BMC were deemed false to which they did not appeal this decision.
            Professor Murch’s official charges were also serious professional misconduct and sanction. He was found guilty of professional misconduct but not of sanction.

            On 9 November, David Lewis of the National Whistleblower’s Center in Washington DC published a letter in the BMJ ( arguing that Wakefield did not commit research fraud.

            This comment typically refers to the clinical investigations carried out by Walker-Smith, which included colonoscopies, barium studies, and lumbar punctures (LP). On appeal this charge by the General Medical Council as being “not clinically indicated” (pg. 4) was overturned by the U.K.’s High Court Of Justice (High Court Of Justice, 2010).

            It is also important to note that the children had a positive diagnosis of GI disease through this workup, and were appropriately treated. The parents gave full consent for the procedures and were satisfied with the diagnosis and subsequent treatment. These children were not managed appropriately by their general practitioners regarding their untreated colitis. Further the Lumber P’s were ordered to asses the function of the CNS, which is appropriate since we now know that autism is a brain (encephalopathy)/body disorder, and the vaccine strain of measles has been found in the CNS of patients with encephalitis (science references). Barium studies are routine in assessing the upper GI tract.
            His co – author was exonerated because his insurance paid for the case. Wakefield s did not but he has filed defamation charges and it’s looking positive. Also why would he bring out a movie and more studies if he was lying? That seriously hurt his career but he cares more about the truth for the children.



            This is why Dr. Andrew Wakefield is such a threat to the pharmaceutical industry.

            Dr. Wakefield NEVER said vaccines cause autism.
            Dr. Wakefield is a gastroenterologist. He saw a number of children with gastrointestinal problems who also happened to be diagnosed with autism. Dr. Wakefield reported his observations. He never claimed that the MMR “caused” autism. He merely reported that a number of children he had seen had BOTH gastrointestinal problems AND autism, and according to parental report, these issues developed within a short time of when the children received the MMR vaccine.

            Again… Why is Dr. Wakefield such a threat to the pharmaceutical industry? Not because vaccines cause autism – they don’t. They cause gastrointestinal damage.

            Gastrointestinal damage causes malabsorption of nutrients necessary for proper brain function.
            Malabsorption of essential nutrients causes immune system disorders, seizures, encephalopathy, etc… and THAT’s what leads to the ultimate diagnosis of “autism.”

  6. I love how you go on about conspiracy theories and then proceed with your own theory. The reason wealthy people do not vaccinate is because they see the world for what it is. You would not know this because your ability to think freely and openly was taken from you when you were indoctrinated at the school of medicine. Today we get dillusional “educated people” who have lost all common sense (maybe thats why a large amount of wealthy people have not even attended university? hmm.). Making century (possibly even millennium) altering decisions based on the science of now is not merely wrong, it is dumb. It shows a complete lack of respect for history. Scientist are always the most arrogant people in society, and we are letting them take the reins. Those of us who are even capable of even making it to the very top of the corporate ladder are more then likely narccists or psychopaths and it is these people who are responsible for the science you SEE today. It is all about gains, whether that be money or power. Society is seriously sick. I seriously laugh at you morons, your like an old lady being taken advantage of by a conn artist.

  7. Maybe we don’t vaccinate because we are smarter than you. Seriously, what a bunch of lemmings. You would do well to emulate those who are successful.

  8. I have been surprised by how young vaccination is done conventionally–when immune systems may not be fully developed–and how many are given at once. This may not be an ‘either-or’ situation, as in ‘all vaccines bad’ or ‘good’, or thimoseral, but that we are not giving them in the correct sequence or age. Using some logic here…Vaccines are supposed to create an immune response, and logically, if the immune system is underdeveloped, you’re not going to get the right response. (The same reason why flu vaccines are ineffective in many elderly–their immune system just isn’t responding.)

    Where is the research on whether we are giving vaccines to children too early or in combinations that are overwhelming to the child’s immune system (especially stacked in one)? This may affect children in brain development, they may have a genetic marker that makes them sensitive to certain vaccines given too young (their immune system) or in combination. In other words, their immune systems can’t handle them and it sets up a chain reaction that compromises their development.

    There are too many children out there who’ve been affected negatively by vaccines (as in sudden autism). If I had a child, I would want to give that child multiple vaccines separately and at a later rather than earlier age, so that the immune system would be more fully developed–and responsive. I would be looking back at practices from several decades ago as to timing and age.

    Before you dismiss me as a crank, I work in the health tech field and with broader healthcare issues as a writer. I’m no Luddite, but I think this possibility has not been thoroughly researched, especially with the advances in genomics in recent years. It’s a shame it’s been politicized with pressure from the Feds, the states, pediatricians and pharma companies to stack more vaccines and give them very early to children.

  9. The final sentence reveals some Layer One thinking in itself. These days being poor does not entail lack of education. Thanks to Reagan’s legacy, the poor have for some time now comprised diverse backgrounds. It would come as no surprise to today’s poor that what underlies the refusal to vaccinate is not only ignorance, but arrogance and a sense of entitlement. This is a salient characteristic of the rich, consistent with findings in other areas. For example, the poor give proportionally more to charity than the rich, and to worthier causes:


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