Breakfast show Good Morning Britain (GMB) has been accused of putting children and pets at risk after it emerged that it was planning to air a segment on whether animal vaccines can cause “canine autism”.
A tweeted request from the show said it was intending to run a debate on the issue of pet vaccination.
It said they were looking to speak with an owner who had not inoculated their pets "because they're concerned about side effects", as well as "people who have done so and now believe their pet has canine autism as a result."
The National Autistic Society (NAS) said it had contacted the show directly with its concerns about such a high profile platform for claims that there a link between vaccines and autism, which have been completely discredited in humans.
“There is no link between autism and vaccines. Despite research proving this comprehensively, damaging myths about autism persist in some circles – and must be challenged," added Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the NAS.
"We were very disappointed to hear that a mainstream broadcaster would consider bringing autism into a story about vaccinations in this way".
Autism is a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people and how they interact with the world around them, and affects around 700,000 people in the UK.
"As an autistic individual I was deeply offended," said Alexandra Forshaw, 44, who works as a software developer and is a board member Autistic Inclusive Meets. “In a single tweet they managed to perpetuate the myth of a link between autism and vaccination, and the myth that autism is something that can be contracted.
"But even more than the harm this does to public health, the comparison between autistic people and poorly-trained pet dogs is immensely insulting and hurtful."
She said this was particularly hurtful coming in April, which autism awareness month.
The scaremongering of the anti-vaccination movement has been responsible for a resurgence of preventable and potentially fatal diseases like measles, which is highly contagious.
Outbreaks from Europe which are affecting thousands of people across Germany and Romania have been brought to the UK and taken root in unvaccinated communities infecting more than a hundred people.
The British Veterinary Association said it was aware of a growing community of anti-vaccination pet owners in the US, "who have voiced concerns that vaccinations may lead to their dogs developing autism-like behaviour".
“But there is currently no scientific evidence to suggest autism in dogs or a link between vaccination and autism,” said BVA senior vice president Gudrun Ravetz.
“We know from the example of the MMR vaccine and its now disproven link to autism in children that scaremongering can lead to a loss of public confidence in vaccination and knee-jerk reactions that can lead to outbreaks of disease,”
Adding that stoking fears in pet owners could have similarly serious results for their animals and spread killer conditions like canine distemper and the parovirus which have been significantly reduced and controlled by vaccines.
The modern anti-vaccination movement was birthed by the discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield who claimed in a 1998 study - since withdrawn by the Lancet medical journal - that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combined vaccination was causing autism.
Wakefield was struck off after journalists exposed the fact that many of the patients in his study were litigants in a claim against the vaccine manufacturers, and funded by the group representing their case.
UK vaccination rates are just now beginning to return to their pre-1998 levels, but Wakefield has relaunched himself in America, fronting documentaries on the subject and spawning an international “anti-vaccination” community spreading information online.
A GMB spokesperson said: 'Good Morning Britain features daily debates around a variety of news stories and current affairs. On Friday's programme there will be a debate about pet vaccinations in relation to recent figures showing a decline in the number of animals being vaccinated. The item will reflect both a "for" and "against" vaccination standpoint.'