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Environment

Vaccines and Autism: Fear Trumps Science

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On Friday I received a remarkable press release entitled, "Vaccines and Mercury Related to Tobacco, Asbestos, and Lead?" Here's the first graph:

We are in an epidemic of chronic diseases -- including Autism -- that were rare decades ago, but today affect tens of millions of adults and fully one-half of our children. 1 Moreover, thousands of adults and children die each year from sudden unexplained causes. 2 Many doctors and scientists say that clear evidence links these health problems to vaccines and mercury.

The release, from a supposed journalism organization called Public Affairs Media, Inc., goes on to suggest that the autism-vaccine link is following a similar historical trajectory as other famous public health storylines, such as the long-disputed link (by cigarette companies) between tobacco and lung cancer. The release promotes a quasi-documentary on autism and vaccines by Public Affairs Media. But if you link to the website and blog, there's no information on the new non-profit, just a clip of the video, which was made by Richard Milner, a television and film producer. The PR for the documentary makes this claim:

For some time, substantial evidence has linked vaccines and mercury to death and major chronic diseases, including Autism. Why is this evidence being ignored?

What I find even odder than this utterly false claim is that it was distributed in the form of a "paid" press release via the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), of which I am a member. To be fair, SEJ is a conduit for many paid releases, which members receive in their email. And they all contain the following disclaimer: "The following is a paid press release and does not necessarily reflect views of the Society of Environmental Journalists." Still, I have to wonder what the credibility threshold is for SEJ in terms of its press release policy. Leaving asides questions about Public Media Inc., (are they a real journalism outfit or just a front for some autism advocacy group?), what about the actual substance of the release? Not only is it poorly written, but it also makes bizzare, vaguely conspiratorial assertions. No red flags there? As to the thrust of its main claim? Here's the latest fact page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states:

Many studies have looked at whether there is a relationship between vaccines and autism. The weight of the evidence indicates that vaccines are not associated with autism.

Additionally, as the Sunday Times from England reported several months ago, it appears that the researcher who triggered the autism-MMR scare back in 1998 with a study in Lancet, actually falsified his data. It'll be interesting to see if Milner gets any press coverage for this latest scare-mongering about vaccines. The real story, though, is the continuing threat to public health with increasing numbers of children not getting immunization shots because their parents have succumbed to the well-publicized and thoroughly unsubstantiated fears that vaccines can trigger autism.

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