In a short while, a new book by Dr. Paul Offit will be released. The title alone makes me shake my head in disbelief: Dangerous Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. An honored guest, he shared this message with the American Academy of Pediatrics as a speaker at their conference this month. I'm sure we can expect to see him making the media rounds shortly. It’s hard to imagine highly educated, professional adults have allowed this debate to be hijacked to such an extent. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I truly am shocked that the leadership charged with children’s health has failed to stand up against this ridiculous fear monger-er and take back the integrity of their calling. Instead, they have chosen to make him their champion.
When Dr. Bernadine Healy spoke about the lack of studies existing to close the door on the causal relationship between vaccines and Autism, I remember feeling such relief. It wasn’t as much that she was well respected and was reiterating what we have been saying, but rather that she gave me hope there still were honorable professionals working for all of us and our children. If she could so calmly and rationally frame the debate in such a mature context (which is simply whether or not relevant and objective science has answered the question), perhaps there was hope we could move forward in civility. Alas it seems, no.
In addition to the fact Dr. Healy pointed out that the proper science had not yet been conducted, she quietly hit the nail on the head for why that is. There is a very real belief that the American public is too stupid to handle it, to which she countered, “I believe the American public is smarter than that.” We all need to reiterate this loudly and clearly so everyone finally gets it: The mainstream medical community wants to squash the conversation on vaccine safety because not only do they believe there are no safety concerns (they've studied themselves and found themselves not guilty over oversight failure), but more important, because they firmly believe any conversation that challenges that group-think will result in catastrophe; therefore, by deduction, the only way to prevent that from happening is not to allow a conversation at all. In other words, debating vaccine safety equals dead children.
The problem is, everyone is having that conversation anyway. And with the internet, coupled with the explosion in children’s chronic health problems for which they offer few answers and little help, information abounds for the curious parent, grandparent and caregiver to form their own opinion. Admittedly, 1 in 4 parents has real concerns.
The response to these concerns has been swift. Deny there is a problem. Prop up biased science as evidence while simultaneously pretending to be the only ones with "real" science backing their position. Make false claims that safety studies that have not been done actually have been done. Talk to the press ad nausea, and request they don't allow opposing views to be heard so they can control the message. Use fear and the law to scare everyone into compliance. Bury the evidence to suggest resurgence of infectious disease is happening because they are becoming vaccine resistant and blame non-vaccinated children instead. Personally attack and embarrass parents who are treating their children for vaccine injury, accusing them of being dangerous and irresponsible. Play word games with the words “caused” and “resulted”. Hold conference presentations on how to handle non-compliant parents. Seal court documents that could be used to understand how other children have been injured. Persuade the public that questioning vaccines equates to a child dying. Use a vaccine patent holder who has never treated a child for Autism as the spokesperson for what doesn’t cause it: the very product that has made him millions. Allow him to propagate the myth that all parents who have vaccine safety concerns are automatically “anti-vaccine”, a hot-button hate-filled term used to manipulate, discredit, and divide. Take the focus off the real issue and paint those who question vaccine safety as selfish and immoral enemies of the greater good who threaten everyone with their dissent, creating a mob mentality of intolerance and anger based in fear.
I truly wonder who the PR firm is behind this train wreck. I don’t think you could script a more guaranteed way to create the exact opposite of what it is you are trying and exacerbate an already contentious situation. The only real way to truly plug the leak on the breaking damn is to start by getting real. For starters, acknowledge the picture of crazy, dangerous dissenters just doesn't fit. The overwhelming majority of vaccine safety advocates and parents who have doubts and are choosing alternative vaccine schedules are highly educated, professional, responsible citizens who are simply not convinced of what you are telling them. And contrary to what you'd like to believe, that's not because they are getting bad information from the internet, celebrities, Autism groups, or a media who likes to air controversy for ratings. No, it's because they can download and read the science used as evidence of safety, apply critical thinking skills, and come to their own conclusions about its bias, relevance, and quality. And quite simply, more and more of them are coming to the conclusion it's crap and wondering how in the heck you can't. Insulting them and painting them as radicals who will kill babies with their choices is immature, irresponsible and inflammatory, not to mention completely and totally dishonest. Truly, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If you keep this up, the fragile trust that remains between parents and pediatricians will no doubt be completely extinguished.
Moreover, realize that while the spokesperson for the medical community may make doctors feel better about what they do, he is perceived as hardly credible to the average parent. (A vaccine patent holder telling them vaccines are safe? Really?) Instead, invite parents with concerns to share their experiences at your conferences. Do the same with scientists and journalists with opposing views. Publicly acknowledge the conflict of interest in the participation of these studies and call for the independent study of vaccine safety issues. Acknowledge the limitations of the studies so far and call for the urgent undertaking of the science still needed. Trust that parents absolutely want the best for their children, and yes, even the greater good. Treat them as responsible human beings who have valid concerns and are not convinced that the appropriate questions have been answered by the appropriate people. Trust that they will be more than happy to comply when you meet their demands, and then meet them. You serve them, not the other way around. It's time you remembered that.
And finally, address the issues that have yet to be addressed, such as, the promulgation of studies that not only demonstrate Thimerosal is not causing Autism, but that it is preventing it; the continued use of Thimerosal in recommended vaccines that 11 years ago you implied was dangerous; the combination of Thimerosal with aluminum in many vaccines, regardless of the fact the Material Safety Data Sheet specifically states never to do so; the dishonest and disrespectful labeling of vaccine safety advocates as "anti-vaccine"; the government award of $20 million dollars for vaccine injuries that "resulted" in Autism and the sealing of those court documents; the lack of science conducted on the safety of adding more recommended childhood vaccines to the schedule without testing the simultaneous administration of them; the refusal to study the vaccinated versus never vaccinated, knowing that it is indeed possible and ethical to do so right now with existing populations that have made personal vaccine choices; the refusal to investigate thoroughly whether or not in the name of eradicating infectious disease we have unintentionally swapped it for chronic disease.
Sadly, I fear this issue is only headed in one direction: a bad one. Legislators are being called upon to force compliance, reduce exemptions, and threaten people’s livelihoods and educations if they refuse to participate. Our media is being asked to restrict free speech. Responsible, but thoughtful citizens are being labeled as enemies of the state for having the audacity to question the status quo and make their own health care decisions. Some doctors are going so far as to publicly accuse safety-advocates of killing children. I don't think the gravity of this situation can be overestimated. Perhaps as more and more thoughtful citizens become personally affected by this serious issue, including those 60% of health care workers who refuse flu shots, we can finally get to the bottom of what this all means: The system is broken. And maybe, just maybe, the day will come when we finally realize that the only way to truly protect the people is to protect them as individuals first. Until then, however, I can only believe this situation will get worse, and incredibly, one man in particular seems more than happy to make it so.
Julie Obradovic is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.