Health & Wellness

Former NBC chief, Autism Speaks co-founder: No 'direct tie' between vaccines, autism

Former NBC chief executive Bob Wright created a non-profit organization from scratch into the world’s leading advocacy and research funding agency for autism. When he weighs in on the controversial topic of whether a link exists between vaccines and autism, people listen.

“There’s no tie, direct tie, to autism,” Wright said Tuesday, when he returned to the NBC studios to speak about his new book, “The Wright Stuff.”

Wright, who co-founded Autism Speaks with his wife, Suzanne, said “there is no definitive answer” to whether vaccines cause autism. However, he believes there could be better safety controls when it comes over overseeing vaccine production.

“We have not been able to determine that autism is caused by vaccines. However, there are lots of issues having to do with the vaccine safety program that I got into very deeply, with no agenda, early on in autism,” he said.

He said vaccine companies pay out tens of millions of dollars worth of damages each year in lawsuits, although not specifically tied to autism cases.

“There’s always going to be an issue with vaccines because all vaccines are the same, and all people receiving them are different,” he said.

RELATED: New survey finds 1 in 45 kids has autism: What's behind the alarming number?

Wright and his wife dived into autism advocacy shortly after their grandson was diagnosed with the disorder as a 2-year-old. At that time, the family couldn’t find any support or resources that could help them understand what to expect.

The controversy over autism and vaccines resurfaced this week following the decision to drop a new documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” from the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary is directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield, a British physician whose license was revoked after he included fraudulent research in a now-widely discredited study linking vaccines to the development of autism.

Wright credits his wife, Suzanne, for helping build national awareness about autism.

“Couldn’t have done it without her. She was the empathy, the face — the passion face — and went out and did all of the work …to create this enormous amount of media about autism,” he said.

Suzanne is currently battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer, for which she was diagnosed last fall.

“October 29 was the worst day in my life,” Wright said. Pancreatic cancer is usually discovered in its late stages, he said, and prognosis is often grim even with treatment.

“It’s a terribly difficult thing," he said. "I’m now pouring myself into this, because it’s her, and it’s just very difficult.”

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