Damage Done: Media Misinformation on Vaccines Helps Cause Whooping Cough Resurgence

The mainstream media is always hungry for a story about how the duplicity and greed of big bad corporations harms innocent consumers. Throw children into the mix and just try to stop a network anchor from breathlessly relaying the whole, sordid narrative.

Unfortunately, in their unlimited ability to believe the worst about the private sector, the media file erroneous stories, whose retractions never generate the same notice as the original reports. A Washington Post article on Sept. 28 on the recent reappearance of Pertussis provided a sad example.

Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is making a comeback. There are several reasons for the resurgence, but an important one is the media-induced fear surrounding vaccinations for it and other diseases.

A few years ago, the mainstream media – most notably CBS – helped publicize the theory that vaccinating children can cause them to develop autism. As the Business & Media Institute wrote in early 2008, “The pharmaceutical industry had maintained all along that there’s no proven link between a vaccine preservative called thimerosal and autism. CBS repeatedly reported the opposite.” The “Evening News” reported the alleged link between vaccines and autism in June of 2007. However, it was not until January of 2008 that the “Evening News” was forced to retract its story reporting that “[N]ew research finds no link between mercury in vaccines and autism in children.”

But in 2005, CBS dutifully aired bizarre assertions by celebrity environmental extremist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., about thimerosal, within the context of mercury emissions from coal plants. ABC and Time magazine also helped spread the alarmist news.

By the time CBS retracted the report in 2008, the damage had been done, and a portion of the public began to opt out of child vaccinations.

One state in particular is seeing the effects of dodging vaccines. The Post reported that, “In California it is legal and quite easy to refuse vaccination, and the discredited theory that vaccines cause autism has created clusters of unvaccinated children. In affluent Marin County north of San Francisco, for example, about 13 percent of parents refused vaccination for their kindergartners in 2009, according to the state's Department of Public Health. Marin has one of the highest rates of infection this year.” This problem will only grow worse if faulty information continues to be presented as fact.

BMI featured an article October 2008 in which NBC’s chief medical editor Nancy Snyderman defended pharmaceutical companies and vaccinations. She stated “parents who are afraid vaccines will cause autism aren’t educated on the issue.16 studies have shown “no causal association” between vaccines and autism.” She concludes by stating, “The science is the science. We’re going to start to see outbreaks of polio and measles in this country if we don’t start talking about the real problem.”

According to the Post, “Pertussis is more infectious than smallpox, polio or influenza, and it spreads quickly through the unprotected.” Media negligence has resulted in a misinformed public, and children are suffering the consequences.  

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