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Home » Documentary Clip Falsely Links Vaccines to Autism in Vietnam

Documentary Clip Falsely Links Vaccines to Autism in Vietnam

by Iam Sann
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A video circulating on social media claims vaccines brought to Vietnam by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led to a massive increase in the number of autism patients in the country. This is false; research shows no link between vaccination and autism, and Vietnamese experts said growing awareness and changes to diagnosis criteria have contributed to more people being identified with the neurodevelopmental disorder.

“No autism in Vietnam before Bill Gates,” says text over a video shared July 17, 2023 on Instagram.

A man in the clip claims Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his foundation introduced a vaccination program to the Southeast Asian country, leading to a spike in cases.

“There’s no such thing as autism in 1975, year 2000, year 2001 — there’s no such thing,” he says. “Now Vietnam has over a 300 percent rise in autism.”

<span>Screenshot of an Instagram post taken July 26, 2023</span>
Screenshot of an Instagram post taken July 26, 2023

The same video has circulated in Vietnamese and English on FacebookTikTokLinkedIn and Twitter — which is being rebranded as “X” — since at least 2019, garnering thousands of views. Some posts indicate the speaker is Anthony Phan, a doctor based in the US state of California.

But Phan does not specialize in autism — and health authorities and experts told AFP his claims are false.

“There is no link between vaccination and autism in Vietnam or other countries,” said Quyet Minh Nguyen, a psychiatrist at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability. Scientists are still researching its causes, which may include genetic or other factors, according to Nguyen.

“Saying vaccination causes autism is unscientific,” he told AFP.

Origin of the video

The footage shared online includes a watermark that indicates it was cut from the controversial documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe.”

The film was directed by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor whose medical license was revoked after he falsified data in a 1998 paper linking autism to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The Lancet retracted the study years later, but it continues to fuel misinformation.

Scientists have repeatedly quashed claims that autism and vaccination are connected (archived here):

  • A 2002 study (archived here) found that among 537,303 Danish children, 82 percent of whom had received the MMR vaccine, the risk of autism was the same in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.
  • In 2009, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia examined seven studies looking at a possible association between thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in vaccines, and autism. All of them failed to support the link (archived here).
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association published a 2015 study on more than 90,000 children confirming the MMR vaccine did not increase the risk of ASD (archived here).

Autism rates in Vietnam

There are no official nationwide statistics on ASD rates in Vietnam, according to Cong Tran, a professor at Vietnam National University.

Monitoring the progression of the country’s ASD cases is further complicated by changes to how the disorder is diagnosed.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association introduced the single umbrella diagnosis of ASD, which covers four separate subcategories that had been used since 1994.

“The change also makes it harder to compare the numbers of autism patients over the years,” said Nguyen of the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital.

In 2021, researchers from Hanoi University Public Health published what they said was the first national survey of ASD prevalence in Vietnam (archived here), finding that about “1 in 132 children” had the condition.

“ASDs amongst children aged 18 and 30 months in Vietnam tend to be increasing and are similar to this rate in other middle-income countries,” the survey concluded.

Tran, who has studied autism for 20 years, said growing awareness of ASD has led to more children being diagnosed, but “saying there was a 300 percent rise in autism in Vietnam is nonsense.”

Tran also works with many adults aged 30-40 who are living with ASD.

“This means Vietnam definitely had autism patients before 2000,” he said, refuting assertions in the video.

Vaccination in Vietnam

In 2015, the World Health Organization formally certifiedthat Vietnam had a fully equipped national regulatory system that ensured the safety and efficacy of vaccines produced and used domestically. 

Vietnam’s Expanded Programme on Immunization has helped control measles — and eradicate polio and neonatal tetanus, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

“While no vaccine is 100 percent safe, very few adverse events are shown to be caused by vaccines,” the US National Academy of Medicine said in a 2012 report(archived here).

Vietnam has received support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), which counts the Gates Foundation as one of its major donors. But there is no evidence the vaccination programs are linked to autism.

Gates and his foundation are regular targets ofmisinformation. Asked about the Vietnam claim, the foundation said in a July 25 email: “We can confirm that these claims are false.”

Source: Yahoo News

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