Thanks to a public outcry about the dangers of furthering the scientifically disputed link between vaccines and autism, a portion of the profits that Chili’s makes today won’t go toward a group that supports vaccine denial.
Chili’s Grill & Bar recently announced that, in an effort to mark Autism Awareness Month, hundreds of its locations across the country would donate 10 percent of customers’ checks on April 7 to the National Autism Association. But thanks to that particular group’s stance on vaccines, that move sparked considerable controversy.
On its website, the National Autism Association claims that “vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children.” The organization also directs supporters to check out the National Vaccine Information Center to learn more about vaccines’ relationship to autism — a group that has an official-sounding name, but that is actually notorious for spreading anti-vaccine propaganda.
In response, pro-vaccine groups started calling for a boycott of the restaurant chain. Angry comments flooded Chili’s official Facebook page. “Hosting a fundraiser for an organization that encourages parents not to vaccinate their children is not only irresponsible, but also unforgivable,” one comment reads. “Come for dinner, stay for pertussis,” another jokes.
It didn’t take Chili’s long to address the controversy. On Sunday, the company canceled the fundraiser. “While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests,” Chili’s explained on its website.
This issue has recently picked up steam as vaccine preventable outbreaks have been on the rise. Over the past several months, cities across the country have been facing unusually serious outbreaks of measles, a phenomenon that’s been directly linked to a growing number of parents who are putting stock in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Although there’s absolutely no scientific evidence that kids’ recommended vaccines can increase their risk of autism, prominent public figures like Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari continue to keep that myth in the news. Now, public health officials are scrambling to try to figure out the best ways to dispel this persistent rumor.
Some people have been attempting to publicize their personal stories to bring more awareness to the dangerous consequences of forgoing vaccines. Last week, an Australian woman hosted a Reddit AMA to explain that she contracted polio after her mother didn’t vaccinate her against the disease. And on Sunday, a Massachusetts mother told USA Today that her nine-week-old son, Brady, died after contracting whooping cough. “I hope Brady has saved babies and protected them because we have spread his story,” the grieving mother, who is now careful to vaccinate her other children, explained.
Chili’s hasn’t yet announced whether it will choose a different organization to partner with during Autism Awareness Month. But there are plenty of other groups dedicated to supporting people with autism that don’t also further myths about vaccines.