A few weeks ago my son needed a haircut. Unable to get him to the place he likes to get a trim, I had to take him to a different place. He didn’t get the best cut like he did the time before, but it got done. I told Willem I’d do better to get him to his regular barber next time. It’s a great little place where he normally goes. I’ve only ever had one problem there – the television stays on and loudly. With how the chair was situated during his last cut, Willem had a completely unobstructed view to everything on the screen. I’d have been absolutely fine with that, but I was not too keen that he watched a daytime soap opera for the first time that day. Let’s just say that I had to explain more of a steamy plot than I’d have liked to.
While Willem winced and tried to look away from the TV during the hot and heavy soap opera scenes, I was already preparing a quick chat with him: Hey, Little Buddy. Yeah, some of that show’s content…wowzers! It certainly wasn’t for kids, but that stuff does happen. The lies, the cheating, the scandalous affairs and the backstabbing. That’s part of real life for some people. On our way to the parking lot, I did say all of to my son. He replied, “Yeah, I know. But geez, the actors were so fake and too over-the-top.”
I agreed, “Yep. It’s a little worse than when I was a kid, but that kind of drama has been part of television for as long as I can remember.” Before changing the subject about having enough time to go grab lunch together, I wanted to ask him one more thing, “What else did you notice?” Immediately, Willem shared, “Oh, the commercials. Mom, they were so…strange. Most were pharmaceutical commercials.”
He learned quickly that one cannot avoid the onslaught of pharma ads when tuned into a mainstream media television station.
Ronan’s younger brother continued, “Geez, did you hear all those side effects they can cause? They make the actors look all happy and life is perfect while they take the drug, but the side effects they list. They can cause other problems, some pretty bad ones, too. And some may cause death! That makes you need to get other medication. Well, you can get more meds for the side effects as long as you haven’t died from the first drug’s side effect: Here take this pill and it’ll help your diabetes but – be careful, you may die if you take it! It’s crazy. How’s that for getting you healthy? I guess it’s just a price you have to pay.”
“You take a risk in using the medicine they’re paying a lot of money to advertise,” I started. “And if something bad happens when you take that drug, you deal with the consequences, not the doctor who prescribed it. You have to live with the damage that’s done and hope that it can be reversed.” Willem and I returned to that conversation the other day when we were home. It happened after we watched an old 80s show we found online that included every commercial break. During that 60-minute show, not one prescription drug commercial was aired. Over-the-counter ads were part of the hour-long episode, but nothing needing a script.
Sitting in our home office with the computer on later that evening, Willem and I talked a little bit more about those prescription drug commercials he’d seen at the barber shop. “They’re bad, but not as bad as the vaccine ads,” I told him. He was dumbfounded.
“They advertise vaccines on TV??”
We don’t have cable and haven’t for over 7 years, so my son’s exposure to the many paid pharmaceutical ads that most kids his age have grown up seeing really shocked him. As I typed in the name of a heavily pushed vaccine in an internet search bar, I told Willem, “Wait till you see this one.” It was at this point that my oldest walked in and sat down with us. Looking at the screen she said, “Oh, that one. I hate what they do to the parents in that commercial.” I’d pulled up an HPV vaccine ad that aired in 2016 that takes aim at blaming parents. I’d written about it before and also why we pulled the plug on cable. Fiona remembered that. “Mom, that one is such a bad commercial and so rude to moms and dads.”
On her own, Fiona has taken to reading quite a bit on vaccines. She knows about the nature of disease and also about the risks associated with vaccines. She knows that having that sort of information will only help her make more informed decisions in the future. Likely to be the first of my children to go off on their own, Fiona wants to learn as much as she can now before she finds herself face-to-face with a doctor in an exam room. That means knowing her rights. That means reading about current standard practices. That means looking beyond a 60-second advert and knowing more than what the industry touts as fact.
After a lengthy conversation about the HPV vaccine and the many risks associated with it, Izzy came in the office and said that she talked about the flu shot earlier that day with a friend. “Mom, the flu shot signs are all over the place.” I nodded my head in agreement. Almost year-round now instead of just from August to April like years before, you can’t ignore the signage at the grocery stores and big box stores. One of the kids asked, “How much money do they spend to tell us to get a shot that’s, what, only something like 20% effective? It has a higher failing rate than a passing rate!”
Great question! Great observation!!
I had not looked at the data on what the pharma industry spends on their advertisements yet, so with the kids reading over my shoulder, I did a quick search. This article in USA Today from last year states that advertising dollars recently increased which could explain why every other commercial Willem saw during that soap opera was for some pharmaceutical product. This group posts just how much has been spent on advertisements from January through September of this year alone. Looking again at those figures, and seeing that those were only the top pharma companies, top Rx drugs, and top drugs, we were all a bit stunned. We’re not talking just a few million dollars, which is what I would have guessed. We’re talking billions of dollars spent on pharma ads! And that may not even account for all spending. What of the other companies and drugs not at the “top”? How much do they spend?
Since our family doesn’t subscribe to any channels or printed material that’s plastered with prescription and OTC ads, no wonder my younger kids are out of the loop with what pharma is pushing on parents. You know what though? I’m okay with that. I’m glad to be the one to be able to offer both sides of the story to my children first, especially when the topic is vaccines. They know it pretty well already, but every few months, they want to hear the story again. So I tell them.
I used to 100% believe in vaccines.
Now, I don’t.
I also tell them that that decision didn’t happen overnight. It took years for me to walk away from vaccines. It took finally being disappointed in the system as well as understanding the reality of their brother’s vaccine injury to wake me up. They’re glad I did wake up to the truth. My typical children know that I’ve been able to make much better decisions for their brother and for them because of what happened to their brother. Being the ones living with and helping manage the long-term effects of that vaccine injury, Ronan’s siblings understand full well why continuously being observant and by bravely asking questions is important. They know so much more than I did.
I don’t ever want my children to learn things too late like I did. My ignorance years ago did not pay off. It made things worse which is why I will always welcome their questions, especially about drugs and vaccines. What they hear from friends and what sound-bytes they may catch on TV is much different than what we now know to be true. They stand a much better chance in life as long as they know the truth.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.