Kristin Cavallari, the former reality TV star, has been making headlines again after announcing that she and husband Jay Cutler won’t be vaccinating the child they are expecting because of autism fears. “Something is going on,” she tells the Huffington Post, referring to the rising incidence of the disorder. “Something is happening, and we can’t really ignore that. I choose to believe that I think it’s in the vaccines but, again, to each their own and that’s where I stand on it.”
While the rates of autism diagnoses are rising, vaccines aren’t the explanation. The truth is that experts aren’t sure why autism rates are rising. Many argue that the breathtaking increase in diagnosis is the result of earlier and more widespread identification. There are also lines of inquiry into how changing environmental factors could influence prevalence. But what Cavallari is choosing to believe is one theory that has been studied in depth and roundly refuted. This debate often gets emotional, but the basic medical recommendation—you should get your children vaccinated, and whatever risks involved pale in comparison to the benefits—is based on scientific observation. And for the record, those risks do not include autism.
But there is something else that Cavallari said, in a Fox interview, that is more deserving of contemplation and less infuriating than her “to each their own” approach. “You know what?” she said when asked where her anti-vaccine stance comes from. “I have read too many books about autism.” And here’s the thing: I’m sure she has. I may not think she’s read the right books, but I understand the deep concern of parents in the face of a poorly understood developmental disorder that appears to be on the rise.
Parents are worried, and they want answers. Unfortunately the science isn’t there yet. Meanwhile, those who see a vaccine-autism connection are offering a simple solution. Their certainty, particularly in the face of science’s massive uncertainty, is alluring. Unfortunately, it isn’t the answer to the autism riddle. And it has consequences. When it comes to vaccinations, it can’t be “to each their own.”