A Shot in the Dark

  • by: |
  • 09/04/2005

Almost every year during Sweeps Week (when networks try to boost viewership for their annual Nielson ratings) there is a health-related horror story. This year almost every network news program, both local and national, ran stories on how FDA-approved vaccines are causing autism in previously normal, happy, healthy young children. One the one side (the side with about 95% of the airtime) are parents (mostly mothers) whose children developed autism after being vaccinated for childhood diseases. On the other side (and for only the briefest of sound bites) is a nerdy looking doctor saying that every single third-party research study over the past ten years shows absolutely no correlation between autism and childhood vaccines. Who do you think the average viewer believes? And this fear-over-facts tabloid journalism was even more effective this year than usual with the FDA on its heels over drug safety. And to prove to us, once again, that irresponsible actions often have dire unintended consequences, Governor Pataki just signed into law a bill that (effective in 2009) would prohibit children three years of age or younger from being inoculated with vaccines that contain the mercury preservative thimerosal. Another action in the growing litany of public opinion rather than hard science driving public health policy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “This legislation represents very bad public health policy that is based on junk science and mass hysteria, not on the evidence of science.” The AAP continues to say that such a ban has the very real danger of scaring parents away from getting their children vaccinated. Whenever a child develops a horrible condition parents want someone to blame. But the hard truth is that bad things do happen to good people for reasons that cannot be determined. But a worse fate is to reintroduce into society childhood diseases that were the scourge of previous generations. Governor Pataki has incautiously adopted the Precautionary Principle — and put at risk the youngest generation of the Empire State.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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