By Anne Dachel
Last week’s PBS Frontline show, “The Vaccine War,” is getting a lot of reaction within the autism community today. Before watching Frontline, I’d heard enough about the show not to expect fair coverage. The very title was misleading. The word “war” makes one think of a conflict with two sides. That’s not what PBS presented to the public however, and anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the vaccine controversy, could recognize the spin.
On their website, PBS promoted this show saying, “In The Vaccine War, FRONTLINE lays bare the science of vaccine safety and examines the increasingly bitter debate between the public health establishment and a formidable populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists who are armed with the latest social media tools -- including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter -- and are determined to resist pressure from the medical and public health establishments to vaccinate, despite established scientific consensus about vaccine safety.”
In truth, what we witnessed on PBS was yet another example of media bias and a distorted reporting of the facts. Parents have grown weary of the mantra, “vaccines are safe, vaccines save lives.” How many times has this issue been declared settled? How many studies have been announced showing vaccines don’t have serious side effects like autism? This debate shows no signs of stopping, despite the ardent efforts of shows like Frontline.
The claims of parents were noted and dismissed on Frontline.
A growing number of parents say that vaccines can cause autism and that more studies need to be done. Frontline reported that the science is in. There’s no need for more research because multiple, large-scale studies from around the world have looked at the question and the answer is no.
Ten of thousands of parents report that their children were normally developing until they were vaccinated. They regressed and became autistic. Paul Offit, MD, Anthony Fauci, MD and Eric Fombonne, MD declared that regression following vaccinations is mere coincidence.
Parents are worried about the number of vaccine in the schedule. Frontline had Melinda Wharton, MD, MPH in her Public Health Service uniform telling us about all the disease-preventing vaccines that are out there now.
The autism numbers have skyrocketed coincidentally with the dramatic expansion of the vaccine schedule. Frontline called autism “mysterious” and said it “appears” to have increased.
On their website, PBS included this interview with Montreal psychiatrist, Eric Fombonne.
(HERE although the links may have moved since the show aired.) In it Fombonne explained why autism is not an epidemic.
I think a better name for the show would have been, “The Anti-vaccine Movement: Misguided and Dangerous.”
PBS portrayed parents as impassioned and determined but totally without any science on their side. We see Jenny McCarthy, JB Handley, Barbara Loe Fisher, and Robert Kennedy Jr, along with a number of non-vaccinating parents. To the general public the message was clear: The medical community is lined up against them. Their movement is based on fraudulent research (Andrew Wakefield) and celebrity leadership (Jenny McCarthy).
So why do the show?
Why give more publicity to the phony claim that vaccines have harmful side effects?
Maybe the answer is that despite the best efforts of health officials and their willing followers in the media, the public isn’t buying it. Parents are scared. Autistic children are everywhere in our schools and no one can reasonably explain where they’re all coming from. A lot of the Frontline show was about the power of the Internet. Offit declared that people are getting phony information from watching YouTube videos. The Internet is the dangerous influence, according to all these health experts. Fisher, McCarthy, and Handley use this forum to influence the public. Parents are exempting their children and we’re losing herd immunity. This is becoming a national health threat.
There was nothing new in what the pro-vaccine people had to say. We were reminded that they’re focused saving lives. Nothing was new from the other side either. Parents continue to hang on to the false belief that vaccines can harm children. It’s hard to imagine what PBS hoped to accomplish with this show.
What we never hear
Notice that under no circumstance does anyone ever bring up what else motivates the medical community and health officials. No one mentions that these people have everything at stake in this debate. If countless parents are right and vaccines have damaged a generation of children, people will be held responsible—the same people who tell us vaccines are safe. Media sources like PBS like to pretend that this is just about the science, but any clear thinking person knows that’s not the case.
There was another element was missing from the PBS coverage. Where were the experts on our side? Why did PBS make it seem that only parents are concerned about vaccine safety? Did they make any effort to find any of the well-credentialed scientists and doctors who disagree with the main-stream medical community?
The answer is yes, they found them two of them. PBS interviewed Jay Gordon, MD and Robert Sears, MD. They discussed the issue with producer Kate McMahon for several hours each.
Gordon is a nationally renowned pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, UCLA Medical School.
Sears is also well-known and the author of several books, including ones on vaccines and on autism.
So what happened to their interviews?
McMahon said Gordon was cut because it was “best for the show.” I spoke with Dr. Sears and he said that he was told that his interview was cut because “there was too much footage.” Paul Offit was shown a number of times on the broadcast, but there wasn’t thirty seconds for either Sears or Gordon.
Sears’s interview is on the PBS website (HERE unless the links have moved.) Gordon’s is not.
Sears makes it clear that he’s pro-vaccine. He hopes that by offering an alternative schedule, reluctant parents will continue to vaccinate their children.
He’s hardly the threat to herd immunity that non-vaccinating parents are, but incredibly, Frontline made no mention of Dr. Sears.
The only way the story presented by Frontline works is if we just forget about autism. We have to pretend that there’s been no real increase. The vaccine schedule may be more than three times what it was in 1983, but it hasn’t caused any problems. The only epidemics we need to worry about are the ones caused by non-vaccinating parents.
The real problem is, AUTISM ISN’T GOING AWAY. One percent of children have it. One in every 70 boys. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of disabled children who will live long lives, many severely disabled and totally dependent. PBS may try to change the subject and ignore the reality of what’s happened to our children but the public hears more and more about autism everyday in the news. As these affected children age into adulthood, they will cost billion of dollars each year for their support and care and their numbers will be replaced by another generation of children. This is the scariest scenario I can image. And no one is talking about it.
Among the questions Bob Sears was asked were these two: “What if vaccines turn out to be a red herring? What if we're so off the mark with vaccines?”
I think Kate McMahon should have asked him two more questions: What if vaccines turn out to be the cause of the autism epidemic? What if all those questioning vaccine safety were right?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.