UPDATE April 7, 12:15 AM: Chili’s has canceled its Monday fundraiser for the National Autism Association, citing “feedback” they received from guests.
A spokesperson for the restaurant released the following statement:
Chili's Grill & Bar is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. 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. We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili's, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for their thoughtful questions and comments.
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April is National Autism Awareness Month, billed as a time “to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.” To participate in the effort, Chili’s Grill & Bar says it will donate 10 percent of patrons’ checks on April 7 to the National Autism Association, or NAA, a charity with controversial views about the effects of vaccines on children.
The NAA states on its website that members of the organization believe that vaccinations have “triggered” autism in a “subset of children,” and that mainstream science “discounts” this link.
“The National Autism Association believes vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions,” the charity maintains.
The NAA cites as evidence parents who “can provide detailed accounts of regression in their children following vaccination” and stresses the importance of considering these accounts.
In other words, the NAA has anecdotal evidence that vaccines can cause autism, not scientific proof.
Business Insider drew attention to the charity’s anti-vaccine stance and Chili’s support for the association on Thursday. The news site notes that the NAA includes a link on its website where the charity says parents can find more information about vaccines and autism. The link takes visitors to the National Vaccine Information Center, a powerful anti-vaccine group that has a history of opposing federal efforts to vaccinate children.
Chili’s released the following statement about its fundraising effort via its Facebook page:
At Chili’s Grill & Bar, we’re about making every guest feel special and pride ourselves in giving back to our communities. When choosing a charitable partner for our Give Back Events, both locally and nationally, we are committed to supporting organizations dedicated to helping children and their families.
The intent of our 4/7 National Give Back Event is not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism. Our choice to partner with the National Autism Association was based on the percentage of donations that would go directly to providing financial assistance to families and supporting programs that aid the development and safety of children with autism. We sincerely appreciate all of the feedback we've heard on this topic.
Not surprisingly, the restaurant’s association with an anti-vaccine charity quickly came under fire. Several Facebook users took to social media to denounce Chili’s support of the NAA.
Still, other social media users praised Chili’s for its stance on vaccines.
The anti-vaccine movement, helmed by a handful of celebrities including television host and actress Jenny McCarthy, has gained traction in recent years, despite strong evidence from several credible studies that there is “not a causal relationship between certain vaccine types and autism.” Advocates for vaccinations cite the steep declines in preventable diseases in regions where vaccines are routinely administered.
The controversy over Chili’s support of an anti-vaccine charity comes at the same time as news that California is experiencing an outbreak of measles. Forty-nine measles cases have been reported in the state in 2014, up from only four at the same time last year.
"We know that there is a vigorous anti-vaccine movement in this country," Matt Zahn, the medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency, told the Los Angeles Times. "So events like this are difficult, but they're important to highlight because we want to make sure people realize that there's reason that you need to get your child vaccinated."