Vaccine-Autism Debate Moves to Small Screen

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New Research

In the study, University of Rochester researchers tested babies from Argentina, where mercury is still used in childhood vaccines. They found that the type of mercury used in the vaccines, which is biologically different from mercury in thermometers or pollutants that affect fish, clears very quickly from the infants' bodies.

The researchers say this offers further proof of the safety of flu vaccines, as they believe the mercury levels do not have time to build up between shots.

Disney's television group provided hundreds of copies of angry letters from groups such as the American Medical Association to the first lady of Mexico. One family wrote that their child had died of the flu because she wasn't vaccinated; another mother who had lost a son to meningitis urged ABC to cancel the show.

The network also received letters of suport. One letter from a mother of a "recovered" autistic child thanked them for "standing in the middle of the controversy and standing up against conventional medical practices, beliefs and rigid conventions that is designed to protect the pharmaceutical industry and a steady stream of continued income," wrote Edith McMillan, a family nurse practitioner.

"Eli Stone" stars Jonny Lee Miller as an ambitious lawyer who transcends greed after an aneurysm leads him to hear music and believe he is a prophet.

In the vein of other whimsical shows like "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Legal," singer George Michael dances and sings on a coffee table in a guest appearance as one of Stone's musical hallucinations.

Co-producer Greg Berlanti said he has "great respect" for the pediatrics group, but doubted the public would make medical decisions "based on a show about a guy hallucinating in his bedroom with George Michael."

Since the controversy, the show's producers have been "besieged with phone calls and e-mails from parents of children with autism in support of the show," he said.

"It was never the intent of the show, which is about so many other things, for anyone to take away that children shouldn't be vaccinated. It's not the message of the show."

The producers acknowledged that their research included talking to "scores of parents" with autistic children. "They were pleased that we portrayed the mother as smart and intelligent and not a crazy person," said Berlanti.

The show explores more than just the autism story line, including a custody battle involving a soldier returning from Iraq, a case of homosexual chimps being separated at a zoo and baseball players and steroid use.

'No False Fear'

But the American Medical Association says in a letter to ABC that giving credence to unfounded science is "no false fear."

In 2003 in Britain, media coverage on an "erroneous report" linking the measles vaccine to autism sparked a drop in immunization rates, resulting in multiple deaths and hospitalizations of children who had not been immunized, according to the medical group.

A 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine titled, "Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism" found no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism.

Marie C. McCormick, a pediatrician and professor at Harvard Medical School, served on the committee that wrote the review that rejected the connection between the mercury-based preservative used in flu vaccines and autism.

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