At first glance, not really an impressive word and definitely not one I thought much about…at least, not in my spare time - and as a mother of a child with autism, I can tell you “spare” as in money, time, hands, is not a reality in my neck of the woods - not, that is, until I realized just how much of a wallop this tiny, 3 letter word had when placed strategically within the confines of a news story.
And that "eureka" moment - the one where my spare time became consumed by that pesky, 3 letter word - occurred about two years ago…shortly after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) – IOM, another 3 letter word that used up my spare time - released its official "findings" in regards to the possible link between autism and vaccines.
You all know what I'm talking about….the oft quoted "2004 Report" which is most typically surrounded by words like: prestigious, conclusive, exhaustive….
Yeah, that one.
Anyway, I started to notice a strange thing over the weeks that followed the release of that report…that 3 letter word – the first one - would rear its ugly head in almost every story I read with such precision in placement I could almost swear it was the same author writing under a pseudonym.
I'd read the story of a family as they described their daily struggles in dealing with their child's autism. You could feel their heartache….relate to their pain…and I could almost hear Average Joe start to think, "Could it possibly be true what they are saying regarding vaccines?" And then WHAM! There it was. Like a neon light in all its glory - the dreaded and strategically placed "but."
"Little Suzie's family thinks that vaccines could be the cause of her autism but the scientific - forgot that one - evidence and final 2004 report issued by the prestigious IOM has shown conclusively – sometimes they lump a whole lot of the adjectives together - that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism."
But: the great nullifier. Somehow, it manages to discredit, erase, obliterate, smear, call into question, cancel anything that precedes it.
Consider the following: “Honey that dress looks great on you but…” and as we both know it doesn’t matter what you say after that point. Your fate is sealed and you’re sleeping with Fido.
And it was after reading a bazillion stories - much like the one about Suzie and Billy - that I decided I was a woman on a mission – “your mission if you decide to take it…. take the "umph" out of that 3 letter word” - and so I took it – and no, the tape didn’t self-destruct but I almost did.
Now, mind you, it took nearly two years - hence, the close call with self-destruction - but with the help of two of my best buddies - Mark Blaxill and Jim Moody - two of the coolest guys on the planet - nearly a dozen meetings with the Secretary's Science Advisor - another nice guy - and a private meeting with the President of the Institute of Medicine - and yes, he's a nice guy too - no hate mail or darts aimed at my pic please - the IOM decided to host an Environmental Workshop where words such as vaccine, autism and mercury were allowed to be spoken – you know, like all at the same time - and with a whole slew of government officials and science folks joining in!
And so, it had to happen. And it did. I marked the day…May 28th, 2007.
The 3 letter word in yet another media story. But this time it was different:
"In April, the government-funded Institute of Medicine held a two-day workshop to discuss ways to research possible toxic causes of autism.
A study by the Institute of Medicine concluded in 2004 that there was no compelling evidence to link mercury-containing vaccines to the rising rates of autism, but researchers agreed at the conference last month that the government should focus more on examining a broad array of potential environmental factors that could contribute to autism, especially in people with a genetic predisposition."
Kelli Ann Davis lives in Washington, DC and advocates on a national level for her son Miles, 15. She also has a daughter Janna, 9.