vaccinations & autism ... new TV drama resurrects the controversy that will not die
Dr. Pearl Kendrick (1890-1980) (left), and Dr. Grace Eldering (1900-1988), developed the first successful whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine in 1938. Photo Copyright (c) 1993 by the Michigan Women's Studies Association.
Kendrick and Eldering, of the Michigan Department of Health, began working on a whooping cough vaccine in the early 1930s. Results from inocculated children proved successful. Michigan began producing and distributing the new vaccine in 1940.
During the previous decade, whooping cough caused an annual average of 6,000 US deaths, most children younger than five. Kendrick's and Eldering's vaccine virtually eliminated all fatalities. Later, the two created the DPT shot, a combined inoculation for diptheria, whooping cough (pertussis) and tentanus.
Uh-oh, mercury in the infant vaccinations rears its head again. First a researcher surveyed YouTube videos about childhood vaccinations and found that the majority advised against childhood vaccines. Now ABC (the American Broadcasting Company, a commercial TV network owned by Disney) is set to broadcast a fictional lawyer show in which a lawsuit successfully makes the link between mercury preservatives in the vaccines and autism.
True, false, misrepresented, skewed, distorted, blown out of proportion, spurious -- this is the urban legend which will not die.
And it always seems to be an uphill defensive battle between physicians and pediatricians, who are nearly unanimous in advocating for the standard childhood vaccinations, and the growing community that believes mercury is responsible for an increase in childhood autism.
At the end of the day it seems to boil down to a fundamental question of confidence and trust. Whom do you trust for advice about the health and protection of your child?
Not necessarily your physician. Certainly not big pharma. Your city or state public health department? Your public school administration? A commercial TV show in which an actor portrays an idealistic personal injury lawyer who fights for the little guy/gal against big pharma? YouTube? Internet websites by anti-vaccination advocacy groups?
Reuters (UK-based newswire)
Monday 28 January
ABC defends show
by Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- The ABC network said on Monday it will go ahead with plans to air an episode of its new legal drama "Eli Stone" despite objections from pediatricians who say the show may discourage parents from having their children immunized.
The debut episode features the show's title character and hero, a trial lawyer for big corporations who decides to fight for the little guy, convincing a jury that a mercury-based preservative in a vaccine caused a child's autism.
On the show, a jury awards the boy's mother $5.2 million in damages after it is revealed the CEO of the vaccine maker kept his own daughter from getting the company's vaccine because of autism concerns.
The "Eli Stone" plot ventures into a highly charged debate between the U.S. medical establishment and some parents and advocates for autistic children over the safety of vaccines for youngsters.
Critics of childhood immunization have argued that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative formerly used in vaccines, is a primary cause of autism in young children.
Major health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cite numerous studies that rule out any scientific link between autism and vaccines.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, reacting to a synopsis of the "Eli Stone" episode in a recent New York Times article, issued a statement criticizing the show as "leaving audiences with the destructive idea that vaccines do cause autism."
The academy also made public a letter to ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Co., calling on the network to cancel the show's premiere episode, which is scheduled to air Thursday.
"Many people trust the health information presented on fictional television shows, which influence their decisions about heath care," academy president Dr. Renee Jenkins wrote in a letter to Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney.
ABC said it plans to broadcast the episode without changes, but would run a disclaimer at the opening of the show stating the story is fictional. A message at the end will refer viewers to a CDC Web site for information about autism.
The show's two creators, Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, disputed the notion that their show would frighten parents away from vaccines.
"We actually share the concern of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We believe that children should be vaccinated," Berlanti told Reuters. But he also said, "We hope that people do watch the episode and draw their own conclusions."
Jenkins, in her letter to ABC, said the pediatricians group is "alarmed that this program could lead to a tragic decline in the immunization rate."
"In the United Kingdom, erroneous reports linking the measles vaccine to autism prompted a decline in vaccination and the worst outbreak of measles in two decades, including the deaths of several children," Jenkins wrote.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)
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