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PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War

I first heard that the show Frontline, from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), would be doing a show on “The Vaccine Wars” by reading comments posted online by supporters of groups like Generation Rescue. I was somewhat taken aback that they were happy to hear this was coming as Frontline is a very evidence-based show. I couldn’t see it being very supportive of Jenny McCarthy.

Frontline’s website had this to say about the show:

Public health scientists and clinicians tout vaccines as one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. But for many ordinary Americans vaccines have become controversial. Young parents are concerned at the sheer number of shots—some 26 inoculations for 14 different diseases by age 6—and follow alternative vaccination schedules advocated by gurus like Dr. Robert Sears. Other parents go further. In communities like Ashland, Oregon, up to one-third of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids at all. And some advocacy groups, like Generation Rescue, argue that vaccines are no longer a public health miracle but a scourge; they view vaccines as responsible for alarming rises in certain disorders, including ADHD and autism. This is the vaccine war: On one side sits scientific medicine and the public health establishment; on the other a populist coalition of parents, celebrities (like Jenny McCarthy), politicians and activists. It’s a war that increasingly takes place on the Internet with both sides using the latest social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter, to win the hearts and minds of the public.

I guess I am not on the “latest” social media tools, but I am blogging on the topic so I figure I count as a small part of the “war”.

Reading the above I felt that “The Vaccine Wars” was not going to be the Jenny McCarthy friendly show some were expecting. Being put on the side against “scientific medicine” is usually not a good thing. Also, Generation Rescue tries to pitch itself as being “pro safe vaccine” rather than anti vaccine. I doubt they would like to see themselves as being characterized as arguing “that vaccines are no longer a public health miracle but a scourge”. Then again, times may be changing with the founder of Generation Rescue stating:

With less than a half-dozen full-time activists, annual budgets of six figures or less, and umpteen thousand courageous, undaunted, and selfless volunteer parents, our community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.

That’s hard to fit into a “pro safe vaccine” image.

One way to tell for certain if Generation Rescue and other groups are afraid of upcoming media attention is when they start attacking spokespeople like Paul Offit (chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and co-inventor of the RotaTeq vaccine against rotavirus). When that happened (recent blog posts on the Age of Autism, resurrecting old, incorrect information) I knew it was likely that “The Vaccine Wars” was not going to be a pro-Jenny program.

As it turns out, a video clip has been added to the Frontline website for “The Vaccine Wars”. And, guess what, Dr. Offit was interviewed by Frontline for the piece.

The show airs on April 27th, and will be available online then as well.

Perhaps it is time for those who support the vaccine-causation idea to re-evaluate their position. I can’t tell how many times I’ve been told I need to be “open minded” about the subject. Open minded includes being willing to admit that your ideas on vaccines-causing-autism were wrong.

Let’s see—

  • One of the main proponents of the idea, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was found to be unethical and dishonest
  • The two main theories, really the only two theories, have failed (“not even close”) in the courts
  • The media is moving away from giving the vaccine-causation idea much weight

Of course, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe FrontLine will finally tell the story the vaccine-causation groups believe. Maybe they will uncover the vast conspiracies that are hiding the truth. Maybe. I doubt it.


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