By J.B. Handley
Like many recent articles, Newsweek is referring to an article written by Lisa Gross in the medical journal PLoS Biology titled, “A Broken Trust: Lessons from the Vaccine–Autism Wars.”
Ms. Gross’ article is wildly one-sided and written from the point of view that we parents are clearly mistaken in our belief that vaccines cause autism (she probably didn’t read Fourteen Studies too closely!). Her point is that public health has simply not done a good job in explaining this obvious fact to parents. She concludes:
“Researchers might consider taking a page out of the hero's handbook by embracing the power of stories—that is, adding a bit of drama—to show that even though scientists can't say just what causes autism or how to prevent it, the evidence tells us not to blame vaccines. As news of epidemics spreads along with newly unfettered infectious diseases, those clinging to doubt about vaccines may come to realize that several potentially deadly diseases are just a plane ride, or playground, away—and that vaccines really do save lives.”
Ms. Gross is advocating a strategy the CDC has actually employed for years: scare the hell out of parents to induce them to vaccinate their kids. No doubt, we will see more and more stories about kids dying from vaccine-preventable diseases in the coming months.
As we all know, the US vaccine program is based on public trust. In the last few years, I would argue that the public’s trust in vaccines has eroded dramatically. Don’t believe me? Ask any expecting parent if they are worried about autism and the number of vaccines they are being asked to give their kids.
When my own son was born in 2002 and vaccinated on schedule through 2004, the vaccine-autism connection was an inaudible whisper, although the internet was just starting to give parents more information. Go back to the mid-1990s, it was absent from the radar altogether.
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This led us to wonder: what kind of change in the general population’s perspective of vaccines has the vaccine-autism debate caused? I’d argue that if you asked people in the mid-1990s or even early 2000s if vaccines caused autism, most respondents would simply say “no.” Today, the number should be very different.
I didn’t know how different it would be.
I will quote directly from a report Generation Rescue recently received from Zogby International:
“Zogby International was commissioned by Generation Rescue to conduct an online survey of 4,112 adults. A sampling of Zogby International's online panel, which is representative of the adult population of the US, was invited to participate. Slight weights were added to region, age, gender, education, race, and party to more accurately reflect the population. The margin of error is +/- 1.6 percentage points.
1. Do you believe vaccines play a role in autism?
Not Sure 45
Forty-five percent of respondents are unsure whether vaccines play a role in autism. Forty-two percent believe that vaccines do not play a role, and 13% believe that they do.”
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Let me try and put this in proper context: A sample poll of the entire US adult population shows that 58% of adult Americans either believe vaccines cause autism or are not sure if they do or do not. If you are a public health official, this is a disaster. Do parents who are not sure whether or not vaccines cause autism simply vaccinate on schedule without asking questions or doing research? No, they don’t.
Also, we didn’t poll “Expecting mothers”, “Southern California Parents”, or other subgroups where the “Yes” answer would be far, far higher.
So, the next time you read a hit piece in the Chicago Tribune or an opinion piece in PLoS Biology that attempts to characterize our movement as being a piece of history or crazy or misguided or all of the above, take heart, because here is what is actually true:
1. Public health officials have no plausible explanation for the growth in cases of autism, and they are left to try and manufacture a story around “improved diagnosis” that almost no parent believes.
2. Parents get their best information from other parents. In every neighborhood in America, kids are being diagnosed with autism and parents are concluding it’s the vaccines and sharing this conclusion with their neighbors. This is why Jenny resonates with parents: they are hearing Jenny’s story in their own backyard.
3. The science that has been done to date to “prove” vaccines don’t cause autism is a sham and any educated person can easily verify this by going to: www.fourteenstudies.org
4. The real science asking the right questions is finally starting to happen.
5. Kids are recovering from “autism” by being treated for vaccine injury.
6. On the night of our Larry King Live appearance, Generation Rescue’s website received one million hits.
7. Our survey shows that the Paul Offits of the world are doing a remarkably bad job at managing public opinion.
8. In the end, the truth always prevails.
One of my favorite doctors refers to autism by what I believe is a far more proper name, “Post Vaccination Syndrome”. It appears that Americans as a population are starting to see the world the same way.
For now, I’m a proud member of the 13% club, a number that I have no doubt will continue to grow.
Take heart, parents, we continue to win this war.
J.B. Handley is co-founder of Generation Rescue and a contributor to Age of Autism.