By Anne Dachel
Late last month, Scripps news service put out a number of articles on the debate over vaccines. It seems the controversy that shows no signs of going away is heating up. As much as the press would love it if parents would accept the fact that "studies show no link," it just isn't happening.
These were the stories:
Fears of long-range side effects fuel vaccine debate (HERE)
Thousands of unvaccinated children enter schools (HERE)
Poll: Americans see both need, potential dangers of vaccines (HERE.)
Vaccine poll highlights (HERE)
The unprotected among us (HERE)
There were good aspects in the pieces. They make it clear that many parents don't believe officials and their distrust is getting worse.
There are lots of statistics about non-vaccinating parents. Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center (HERE) is quoted telling us, "The question remains open because definitive, independent studies haven't been done."
And it was refreshing to read that Dr. Saad Omer, assistant professor at Emory University's School of Public Health in Atlanta, "agrees that the public health community needs to spend more time on the risks and benefits of vaccinations." He also says that government and industry need to 'be more proactive on vaccine safety research.'
All these stories coming out at once really shows how serious this debate has become and how complex it is. Reports have been endless in the news in the UK for weeks warning about the threat of a measles epidemic because of unvaccinated kids.
Here in America, we've also caught measles fever and the press is telling us that vaccination rates are falling dangerously low and outbreaks are happening. Predictions that measles might become an epidemic with complications and even death as a result are getting widespread coverage. Reporters continue to stress that vaccines save lives. Most of all, we're reminded that officials have seriously looked and there's no evidence that vaccines cause autism.
One of the Scripps stories, The unprotected Among Us, focuses on the potential victims of disease because of the unvaccinated. We read about a reporter who said, "Hundreds of thousands of children are going to school this fall without protection from deadly diseases." And if vaccination rates continue to fall off, "this could threaten to undo years of progress in public health."
Most ominous in the story was the remark made by Paul Offit about the right of parents not to vaccinate. He said, "At some point, we're going to be forced to decide whether it is an inalienable right to catch and transmit potentially fatal infections." (It should be noted that he's merely described as "Dr. Paul Offit of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia," and not as "Paul Offit vaccine patent holder who personally profits from the mandated schedule.")
This new "scare the public" tactic was brought about because the old one just didn't work. For years, official study after official study was produced all showing no link between autism and vaccines. The mega Institute of Medicine Study in 2004 was the combination of research that was supposed to quash the debate. Few have been convinced, however, and more and more parents are opting out of the schedule. I really wonder how long the public will continue to accept mandated vaccines when there's this kind of debate over their safety. Telling parents they have to vaccinate for the good of the herd won't make vaccines safe.
At a time when autism is at a never-before-seen rate and parents are increasingly scared to vaccinate, I hardly think Offit's "vaccinate or else" attitude is going to go over. I can only imagine the reaction of parents who watched vaccines steal away their child's smile, happiness, and health when they read Offit's comment.
Another interesting part of this is the coincidental release of Offit's new book, Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. In this book, he examines the history of "the notion that vaccines might cause autism." He says he proves that the "science was pretty clear'" and after his careful presentation of the data you'll be convinced too. At least this is what he says on the promo video.
What perfect timing. As the controversy rages in the press and we all look for answers, voila! -- here comes Offit's book to settle things. I can see story after story in which reporters will be saying, "A new book by vaccine expert Paul Offit reexamines the science surrounding the controversy over vaccines and autism and fails to find any connection."
In the real world, the nice neat scenario where parents realize the truth, vaccinate their kids and stave off outbreaks of disease isn't going to happen. Too many kids have autism. Too many people are saying vaccines cause autism. Paul Offit and all the others defending vaccines have no reasonable explanation. Trying to make the measles into a health care emergency while ignoring the autism epidemic shows just how crazy things have gotten.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.