I'm writing this open letter to you in the hope that you'll address something this is one of the most heated controversies in health care today, namely vaccine safety. I see that you've recently talked about the issue of vaccine exemptions and I've also listened to your impassioned call for journalists to honestly and ethically report the news.
I've personally spent years monitoring how the press covers autism and I'm currently media editor at Age of Autism, the daily online source for news about the autism epidemic.
I read the March 1, 2012 piece, When the Next Contagion Strikes, Vaccination Nation written by you and Michael Winship and I noticed the strong message against exempting children from vaccines.
"With Contagion making such a powerful impression, for several days news articles seemed to keep popping up about contagious disease and the conflict between religious beliefs and immunization. There was nothing new about the basics: All fifty states require some specific vaccinations for kids, yet all of them grant exemptions for medical reasons - say, for a child with cancer. Almost all of them grant religious exemptions. And twenty states allow exemptions for personal, moral, or other beliefs.
"According to the February 15 edition of The Wall Street Journal, a number of pediatricians are dropping families from their practices when the parents refuse immunization for their kids. "In a study of Connecticut pediatricians published last year," the paper reported, "some 30% of 133 doctors said they had asked a family to leave their practice for vaccine refusal, and a recent survey of 909 Midwestern pediatricians found that 21% reported discharging families for the same reason."
The heated topic of vaccines and autism got a brief mention.
"But some parents still fear a link between vaccinations and autism, a possibility science has largely debunked."
The rest of your story was about the dangers posed by unvaccinated children and the threat we face from contagious diseases.
On your website I found more on the subject. HERE
Here are videos of you talking on the subject and a link to a Frontline show, Going Behind 'The Vaccine War' HERE.
I watched the short video that presented individuals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blaming the Internet for the vaccine safety concerns, labeling those concerns as "conspiracy theories" and "myths." Dr. Paul Offit and other experts were shown promoting vaccines and denouncing Internet information as "lousy and dangerous." On other side, Barbara Loe Fisher was included as head of the National Vaccine Information Center and as an advocate for vaccine choice with no mention of what the DPT vaccine did to her son. The non-vaccinating mothers in the video are described as a threat to herd immunity. We're shown a child with whooping cough and told about polio.
I kept going back to your dismissal of the vaccine-autism controversy as being "largely debunked." Debunked by whom? Have you ever looked into the web of financial ties between the vaccine makers and medical organizations, health officials, and the media? Have they ever looked into who funded those studies?
The Frontline video asks, "Why is it so hard for some Americans to embrace this communal aspect of vaccines?" Parents were interviewed about the question and it was all academic about parental choice.
A pediatrician on the video blames the media and the Internet for parents' concerns about vaccines. The whole issue seems to be, do parents have a right to exempt their children from recommended vaccines? The underlying message is, Vaccines are safe, vaccines save lives.
Mr Moyers, I also watched a video of your talk in Minneapolis June 7, 2008, 'Journalism in Profound Crisis' (Video).
You spoke to an audience of more than 3,500 at the National Conference for Media Reform. I learned a lot about this impressive group. The media reform movement is challenging "the stranglehold of mega-media corporations over our press" and it fosters "alternative and independent sources of news and information that people can trust."
At the root of this crisis, you said, is media consolidation.
"As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and broadcast outlets, news organizations are folded into entertainment divisions. The news hole in the print media shrinks to make room for ads, celebrities, nonsense and propaganda, and the news we need to know slips from sight."
We were told that the media is accountable to corporate boards, not the public. Democracy requires "honest information" and "accountability." Much of your talk was a call for honest and truthful reporting. You urged your audience to hold PBS accountable to their "high standards of excellence."
"All across the media landscape, the health of our democracy is in peril. .Without a truly free and independent press, this 250 year old experiment in self-government will not make it."
"As journalism goes, so goes democracy."
You explained how we were lied to about the Iraq War with the media being complicit because of their failure to ask questions and demand answers from people who need to be held accountable.
You told the audience that the Fourth Estate has been "colluding with the powers that be in a culture of deception that subverts the thing most necessary to freedom, and that is the truth."
You asked the question, "What do we need to know?
And you answered saying, "We need to know we're in trouble."
You listed examples of the deception all around us in government and business.
"You will search the dominate media largely in vain for journalism that tells the truth about the fading of the American dream."
"It's up to you to tell the truth about what's happening to ordinary people."
"It's up to you to write the story of America that leaves no one out."
Your speech in Minneapolis was a rare wakeup call on state of the American media. I can't say enough in support of your message. What is a mystery to me as someone who has long followed press coverage of the controversy over vaccines and autism, is your unwavering trust in health officials and mainstream medicine when it comes to vaccine safety.
There are two sides in this heated debate, and it isn't just parents vs. experts. There is a growing army of well-credentialed scientists and doctors who challenge the safety claims of the ever-increasing vaccine schedule. This is not just an academic debate over choice as you presented it. The autism vaccine controversy isn't something that can be hurriedly dismissed with a claim that it's "a possibility science has largely debunked."
What the public and especially a growing number of parents are acutely aware of is all the coverage that ignores what's happening to our children. At the heart of the debate is a nation of very sick kids no one can explain. Soaring rates of previously unheard of health problems now plague our children. Once-rare things like diabetes, seizure disorders, life-threatening allergies and asthma are now commonplace among children. One percent of our children now have autism and among boys alone, it's almost two percent. One in every six children has a diagnosis of a learning disorder. No one can explain why we have the most vaccinated children in the world and some of the sickest.
It's not just about the science.
Sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics are looked at increasingly with suspicion. Neither of them has ever called autism a crisis. In the end, the experts are happy to leave autism a mystery and parents are simply left to struggle on their own.
What's left out of your coverage is anything about the possible conflicts of those who vouch for the safety of vaccines. The CDC, the agency that runs the vaccine program, is regularly given the last word on safety in news stories without anyone worried that the agency that approves, recommends, and vigorously promotes the vaccine schedule shouldn't also be in charge of vaccine safety. Hundreds of individuals at the CDC have conflict of interest waivers because they have financial ties to the vaccine makers. The last head of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, a long time denier of any link between vaccines and autism, is now head of the vaccine division at Merck.
The Frontline show presented Dr. Paul Offit dismissing any worries about vaccine side effects. He's often in the news telling us vaccines are safe and he's usually described as "the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia." This story, like most of others citing Offit, made no mention of his role in the development of a rotavirus vaccine which personally profited him millions of dollars.
In 2008, CBS News featured the story, How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders? which pointed out how organizations and individuals who promote vaccines are financially benefiting linked to the vaccine makers.
Mainstream medicine is failing our children.
Telling us that "science has largely debunked" a link between vaccines and autism begs the question, what science? Have you looked at the ties between the vaccine makers and the studies used as proof that vaccines aren't harming our children. Not one is them is an independent study. No one ever asks who funded the research. The media just happily accepts the latest CDC/AAP findings as unbiased and valid.
Parents are more and more skeptical about the ever-increasing vaccination schedule and the reassurances from officials and the media. They're also aware of all the science that isn't there.
Why should we believe that an ever-expanding, untested, one-size-fits all vaccine schedule is fine for every child? HERE
Where is the study comparing fully-vaccinated and never-vaccinated children to see if never-vaccinated kids also have a one percent autism rate? THERE ISN'T ONE. If people really wanted to end this fight right now, officials, doctors, and the press should all be calling for a comparison study. With so many parents now too afraid to vaccinate, the study group is out there. Why has this never been done?
Where are the studies that show that adding aluminum and mercury to vaccines is safe? THERE AREN'T ANY.
Where is even one study on the cumulative effect of the increasing number of vaccines in the childhood schedule? THERE ISN'T ONE. HERE
Why does the press try to spin this as if all the experts are on the side of vaccines?
Dr. Peter Fletcher, former Chief Science Officer in Britain, was in the Daily Mail in 2006. HERE saying this about damage from the MMR vaccine: 'There are very powerful people in positions of great authority in Britain and elsewhere who have staked their reputations and careers on the safety of the MMR and they are willing to do almost anything to protect themselves.' Nothing has really changed in the six years since Dr. Fletcher made this comment. We are routinely told about the latest study again showing no serious side effects.
Why do those in the media so easily ignore all the stories of regression? Thousands of parents report that their children were born healthy and were developing normally until they received certain routine vaccines. Suddenly they changed. Many stopped talking and lost learned skills, eventually ending up with an autism diagnosis. Doctors can only call this a mysterious coincidence.
Why do reporters not report on the well-credentialed experts from leading universities whose studies dispute the safety claims? These are just a few of them.
A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population. Delong G. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2011 Jan;74(14):903-16. HERE
Infant mortality rates regressed against number of vaccine doses routinely given: is there a biochemical or synergistic toxicity? Miller NZ, Goldman GS. HERE
Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevalence of autism?HERE
There are some stories that briefly get coverage and are subsequently ignored. Last year, HDNet TV exposed the fact that while health officials continue to tell us studies show no link, the federal government has paid out millions of dollars for compensation for vaccine injuries that included autism. Seeing these children who were born healthy and were suddenly and dramatically affected by their vaccinations should give us all pause. HERE
The federal government conceded the vaccine damage case of Hannah Poling, a young Georgia girl who regressed into autism following her vaccinations. See CBS News story from Sept, 2010. HERE Her case was called "rare" because of a genetic predisposition at the same time no bothered to find out how many other kids have the same condition.
Parents aren't going to passively comply with more and more vaccinations in the face of so many others who link vaccines to their child's disability. More and more voices are out there.
The short trailer to the new movie, "The Greater Good" on their website HERE makes it clear that there are experts on both side and a lot of serious questions that need to be asked. The medical community and health officials promote vaccines as the greatest achievement in modern medicine yet there is growing fear over vaccine side effects.
Claire Dwoskin from the National Vaccine Information Center and Leslie Manookian, producer of 'The Greater Good," talked about vaccine safety claims with NY talk show host Thom Hartmann on Nov. 21. HERE They discussed the poor design of the research used as proof that vaccines are safe.
Parents are getting informed. Take a look at just a few of sources on vaccines safety.
Vaccine Epidemic edited by Louise Kuo Habakus and Mary Holland HERE
A Shot in the Dark HERE by Harris L. Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher
Make An Informed Vaccine Decision by Mayer Eisenstein, MD HERE
Vaccines: The Risks, the Benefits, the Choices, a Resource Guide for Parents HERE
Vaccines: What CD C Documents and Science Reveal by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny HERE
Vaccine Safety Manual for Concerned Families and Health Practitioners by Neil Z. Miller, Forward by Russell Blaylock, MD HERE
What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children's Vaccinations by Stephanie Cave, MD HERE
Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy by David Kirby HERE
Age of Autism by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill HERE
Members of the press may not bother to read these books but parents do and what they're learning fuels the controversy. It's simply not true that false claims on the Internet are behind distrust in the vaccine program. In the real world, it's caused by too many sick children no one can explain and more and more courageous experts standing up to the pharmaceutical industry's hold on our children's health.
I sincerely want news sources to ask questions and demand answers on this issue. So far, that hasn't happened. That needs to change. The health of America's children is at stake.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.