By J.B. Handley
1998, I remember it like it was yesterday. Just preparing to get married and have kids myself, the headlines were suddenly filled with the news of a British researcher who thought vaccines may be causing all this autism. My wife and I were riveted, we’d read the stories on our iphones every day, searched Google on our broadband internet connection, and shared the news with all our Facebook friends. It was a panic alright, and we parents now knew to learn everything we could before vaccinating our babies. I still thank God for Andy Wakefield alerting me, way back in 1998, to the potential harm vaccines could cause my children…which is why I never gave my boys ANY vaccines.
Yup, the mainstream media is happy to give us all a history lesson about the way this all went down. Of course, the truth is a wee bit different:
I got my first cell phone in 1998, it was the size of my right foot. At home, we were on a waiting list to get a DSL connection so we could peer at the web though our AOL account, and I was still 3 years from getting my first blackberry. My secretary still took my phone messages on a pink notepad and left them in my inbox. Have a work question on the weekend? It’d have to wait until Monday, because I left the office for the weekend and was completely off the grid. Iphone? Hardly, I’d be one of the first on my block to buy my first ipod, in early 2002. And, Google was still an idea being hatched in a Stanford dorm room.
Fast forward, six years later, to 2004. My ASD son is almost 2, and still getting his vaccines. I live in California, read the paper every day, and have only heard the tiniest whisper about autism and vaccines. Andy Wakefield? I couldn’t pick that name out of a 2 man lineup. What are moms talking about on the playground? It’s sure not vaccines, because everything is just fine, and most of the shots still contain mercury.
Folks, the media is having a fine time revising history right now. Someone send me a headline from 1998 in an American newspaper that discusses Wakefield and the MMR. Show me any evidence of a worldwide panic. None of it existed, and this is terribly important, as I will explain in a moment.
Here’s what’s really true, and I encourage all of you to fill in or amend my living history:
Barbara Loe Fisher and others at NVIC carried the first flame of truth about the downside to vaccines. Lyn, Sallie, Liz (rest in peace), and Mark, many years later, began to carry the same torch as SafeMinds. Lujene and her late husband Alan were also spreading the word, through their site NoMercury, and engineered many early sate laws banning Hg. And NAA was beginning to organize. Of course, Bernie was there chiming in, as he had been doing for decades, and was always a light for recovery. (Like many of you, I called ARI and Bernie picked up, and gave me all the time I needed to learn more about how I could help my son.) By 2004, these were the people that I know were carrying the torch, but their medium of communication was just getting started as Boadband, Google, and easy to develop websites were in early development, and I’d still never heard of a blog.
When my son was diagnosed, in the middle of 2004, the web was filled with message boards. Ann Brasher and chelatingkids2 were my introduction to the truth, and SafeMinds, ARI, and NoMercury were sites I used to do my research.
In 2005, the news picked up when RFK Jr. wrote his piece for Rolling Stone, Deadly Immunity. Soon after, David Kirby published Evidence of Harm, and I think the modern autism-vaccine movement was really born.
Still, the media was largely silent on the topic. I remember Katie Wright finally mentioning the word “thimerosal” on Oprah, Don Imus being our only public supporter, and then Jenny blew the doors off.
A worldwide panic since 1998? Not a chance. Things have only picked up since 2006 at the earliest, and Jenny’s first book came out in late 2007 (her first, and most famous appearance on Oprah was September 2007).
A week from now, all this Andy Wakefield news will be ancient history, part of the web of information parents are presented with. Meanwhile, every new parent has the remarkable power of the web at their disposal to do their own research. This crazy news has triple Generation Rescue’s web traffic, and our community grows after every single declaration by the other side of “Mission Accomplished.”
If anything, this particular media frenzy is more ridiculous than most. At least in 2004, after the IOM study was released, it was something fairly official sounding. This time, it’s the words of a single reporter. The story will die, as they always do.
I take comfort in knowing that more news to help our side will fall out of the sky, as it often does. Whether it’s a billionaire who just watched their child regress after vaccination, or another famous celebrity, or a researcher doing honest science to figure out what’s going on, truth prevails with time. Let the denialists dance on Andy’s grave today, and then wake up tomorrow to keep telling the truth.
They can party like it’s 1998 all they want, the parents know better.
By J.B. Handley