Medical Community Response to Irresponsible Media
It’s encouraging to see what can be accomplished when we insist on accurate vaccination messages.
Earlier this week, a concerned parent who frequently comments on our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, alerted us to an article on The Discovery Channel’s TLC site entitled “5 Things to Consider When Deciding to Vaccinate Your Child”. Unfortunately, the article contained numerous inaccuracies and ignored a great deal of scientific evidence regarding vaccines. Since the average parent is not especially well-versed on this issue, the concern was that this type of reporting could misled readers into forming negative opinions of vaccines based on false information. Every Child By Two shared their concern with various health related organizations and their consensus was that something needed to be done to correct the false information and ensure parents received scientifically accurate evidence about vaccines. The AAP offered to draft a letter of concern and multiple organizations signed on in support.
The letter that they delivered to The Discovery Channel last night read as follows:
One of the most important decisions parents make to ensure their children’s health is the decision to vaccinate them against potentially deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases. To do so, parents need accurate, complete information about immunizations – which they often look for online. So we were astounded when we found an article on a Discovery Company website that perpetuates dangerous myths and untruths about vaccines. We cannot understand how a company that celebrates the latest in scientific achievements would feature an article so inaccurate and wholly biased against science.
The article, “5 Things to Consider When Deciding to Vaccinate Your Child” by Josh Clark begins with the claim that medical science has already “conquered” diseases like polio and pertussis, or whooping cough. Polio is still endemic in parts of the world, and pertussis is killing infants here in the United States. Several states have declared epidemics of pertussis this year. Measles, too, is making a comeback, with more cases in the U.S. in 2011 than in 15 years. These diseases pose real threats to children who are unprotected by vaccines.
As with all medications, vaccines do carry some risks, most commonly fever and pain at the injection site. These risks are tiny compared to vaccines’ benefits. But instead of an honest discussion of the facts, Josh Clark perpetuates false and misleading notions. A few errors were corrected in the second version of the article posted May 16, but we cannot understand how they ever made it through your review process. It would have been easy, for example, to learn that the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella does not and never did contain thimerosal, and thimerosal has been removed as a preservative from all other childhood vaccines in the United States, except for some influenza vaccines.
The fallacies don’t stop there. Vaccines contain killed or weakened versions of viruses and bacteria; you cannot “catch” the disease from the vaccine. Josh Clark also resurrects the issue of vaccines and autism, which the scientific and medical communities have thoroughly debunked, and he suggests the only reason parents may want to vaccinate their children before they head to school is that it’s “easier” than filling out the paperwork for an exemption.
Finally, his suggestion that parents delay immunizations is terribly misguided. The vaccine schedule is scientifically designed to protect children when they are most vulnerable to specific infectious diseases. Waiting until school age to vaccinate would leave infants and toddlers exposed to the very diseases that can kill them.
It is clear to us that the Discovery Company has dropped the ball in its vetting process for articles. The members of our societies work hard to protect the health and lives of children, and we believe this erroneous information does a true disservice to families and children. If your organization is presenting information on health to the public, we ask that you do a better job ensuring it is accurate. Our children’s lives depend on it.
We call on the Discovery Company to produce a complete and factual presentation on the importance of immunizations. For accurate information on vaccines, we encourage you to visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines and the websites of our organizations.
American Academy of Family Physicians http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/kids/vaccines.html
American Academy of Physician Assistants www.aapa.org
Autism Science Foundation http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/autismandvaccines.html
Every Child By Two http://www.vaccinateyourbaby.org/
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases www.nfid.org
National Meningitis Association www.nmaus.org
Oregon Pediatric Society
Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases www.pkids.org
Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society
Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia http://vaccine.chop.edu
As the AAP worked to draft this letter, Ken Reibel, a concerned science blogger who often writes about immunizations on his Autism News Beat blog, went to work contacting the author and The Discovery Channel directly by phone. He alerted them to the attention they would soon be getting from the medical and science community, and he suggested that they seek the counsel of an expert when covering such an important topic in the future.
Fortunately, these combined efforts resulted in the removal of the article and the author’s realization that vaccine articles require appropriate research. This exemplifies how powerful our voices can be when parent advocates, public health organizations, medical establishments and determined journalists all collaborate for the good of immunization education. If we are to ensure that vaccine messages remain scientifically accurate, than we must continue to speak out against irresponsible rhetoric, no matter what medium in appears in. This is not the first time that these organizations have had to make a call for the media to act responsibly in their immunization coverage, and it certainly won’t be the last. But each and every time these fallacies are restricted from public view – or more importantly accurate information is shared with parents – is one giant step in the battle against vaccine misinformation.