April 28, 2010

PBS Frontline Distorts Childhood Autism and Vaccination Connection

in For Parents

Diverging from design news today, we’re posting a letter from our daughter’s pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon.  We love Dr. Jay for his kind and thoughtful care, and his measured approach towards childhood vaccinations.  Below is his introduction about his experience with the co-producer of the recent PBS show, “The Vaccine War”, and his follow-up letter to the producer.  As parents, wherever you may fall in the vaccination debate, I just wanted to add Dr. Gordon’s views as one that contributes to the on-going discussion about vaccinations and childhood autism.

Last night, PBS aired a show called “The Vaccine War.” I was interviewed at great length and in great depth about vaccines and my point of view and expressed my ambivalence about the polarization of this issue and the need for more calm reasoned discussion about the number one question that new parents have. I told Kate McMahon, the co-producer of the show, that there was a large group of doctors and others who cannot be dismissed with the facile label “anti-vaccine” because we still give vaccines and see a place for them in the practice of medicine, but we do not agree with the current vaccine schedule nor the number of vaccines children receive all at one time.

A few days ago, Ms.McMahon emailed me to tell me that the decision had been made to omit my interview from the show. There would not be one word from me. She didn’t tell me that she had also omitted 100% of Dr. Robert Sears’ interview. And that any other comments from physicians supporting the parents on the show in their ambivalence about vaccines or their decision to refuse all vaccines would also be omitted.

She left this as a show with many doctors commenting very negatively, very frighteningly and often disdainfully and dismissively about vaccine “hesitation” as they called it.

Below is my email response to Kate McMahon.

Dear Kate,

The “Frontline” show was disgraceful. You didn’t even have the courtesy to put my interview or any part of the two hours we spent taping on your web site.

You created a pseudo-documentary with a preconceived set of conclusions: “Irresponsible moms against science” was an easy takeaway from the show.

Did you happen to notice that Vanessa, the child critically ill with pertussis, was not intubated nor on a respirator in the ER? She had nasal “prongs” delivering oxygen. I’m sorry for her parents’ anxiety and very happy that she was cured of pertussis. But to use anecdotal reports like this as science is irresponsible and merely served the needs of the doctor you wanted to feature.

No one pursued Dr. Offit’s response about becoming rich from the vaccine he invented. He was allowed to slide right by that question without any follow up. Dr. Paul Offit did not go into vaccine research to get rich. He is a scientist motivated by his desire to help children. But his profiting tens of millions of dollars from the creation of this vaccine and the pursuit of sales of this and other vaccines is definitely not what he says it is. His many millions “don’t matter” he says. And you let it go.

Jenny McCarthy resumed being a “former Playboy” person and was not acknowledged as a successful author, actress and mother exploring every possible avenue to treating her own son and the children of tens of thousands of other families.

I trusted you by giving you two or three hours of my time for an interview and multiple background discussions. I expressed my heartfelt reservations about both vaccines and the polarizing of this issue into “pro-vaccine” and “anti-vaccine” camps. I told you that there was at least a third “camp.” There are many doctors and even more parents who would like a more judicious approach to immunization. Give vaccines later, slower and with an individualized approach as we do in every other area of medicine.

What did you create instead?

“The Vaccine War.”

A war. Not a discussion or a disagreement over facts and opinions, but a war. This show was unintelligent, dangerous and completely lacking in the balance that you promised me–and your viewers–when you produced and advertised this piece of biased unscientific journalism. “Tabloid journalism” I believe is the epithet often used. Even a good tabloid journalist could see through the screed you’ve presented.

You interviewed me, you spent hours with Dr. Robert Sears of the deservedly-illustrious Sears family and you spoke to other doctors who support parents in their desire to find out what went wrong and why it’s going wrong and what we might do to prevent this true epidemic.

Not a measles epidemic, not whooping cough. Autism. An epidemic caused by environmental triggers acting on genetic predisposition. The science is there and the evidence of harm is there. Proof will come over the next decade. The National Children’s Study will, perhaps by accident, become a prospective look at many children with and without vaccines. But we don’t have time to wait for the results of this twenty-one year research study: We know that certain pesticides cause cancer and we know that flame retardants in children’s pajamas are dangerous. We are cleaning up our air and water slowly and parents know which paint to buy and which to leave on the shelves when they paint their babies’ bedrooms.

The information parents and doctors don’t have is contained in the huge question mark about the number of vaccines, the way we vaccinate and the dramatic increase in autism, ADD/ADHD, childhood depression and more. We pretend to have proof of harm or proof of no harm when what we really have is a large series of very important unanswered questions.

In case you were wondering, as I practice pediatrics every day of my career, I base nothing I do on Dr. Wakefield’s research or on Jenny McCarthy’s opinions. I respect what they both have done and respectfully disagree with them at times. I don’t think that Dr. Wakefield’s study proved anything except that we need to look harder at his hypothesis. I don’t think that Jenny McCarthy has all the answers to treating or preventing autism, but there are tens of thousands of parents who have long needed her strong high-profile voice to draw attention to their families’ needs: Most families with autism get inadequate reimbursement for their huge annual expenses and very little respect from the insurance industry, the government or the medical community. Jenny has demanded that a brighter light be shone on their circumstances, their frustration and their needs.

I base everything I do on my reading of CDC and World Health Organization statistics about disease incidence in the United States and elsewhere. I base everything I do on having spent the past thirty years in pediatric practice watching tens of thousands of children get vaccines, not get vaccines and the differences I see.

Vaccines change children.

Most experts would argue that the changes are unequivocally good. My experience and three decades of observation and study tell me otherwise. Vaccines are neither all good–as this biased, miserable PBS treacle would have you believe–nor all bad as the strident anti-vaccine camp argues.

You say the decisions to edit 100% of my interview from your show (and omit my comments from your website) “were purely based on what’s best for the show, not personal or political, and the others who didn’t make it came from both sides of the vaccine debate.” You are not telling the truth. You had a point to prove and removed material from your show which made the narrative balanced. “Distraught, confused moms against important, well-spoken calm doctors” was your narrative with a deep sure voice to, literally, narrate the entire artifice.

You should be ashamed of yourself, Kate. You knew what you put on the air was slanted and you cheated the viewers out of an opportunity for education and information. You cheated me out of hours of time, betrayed my trust and then you wasted an hour of PBS airtime. Shame on you.

The way vaccines are manufactured and administered right now in 2010 makes vaccines and their ingredients part of the group of toxins which have led to a huge increase in childhood diseases including autism. Your show made parents’ decisions harder and did nothing except regurgitate old news.

Parents and children deserve far better from PBS.

Jay N. Gordon, MD, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, UCLA Medical School
Former Senior Fellow in Pediatric Nutrition, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institut

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For more information about Dr. Jay Gordon, you may visit his website and Twitter feed @drjaygordonmdfaap.

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