ABC’s Disgrace: Artistic Freedom Doesn’t Excuse Vaccination Scaremongering

When the right-wing tabloid press in Britain began to report – against all reliable medical evidence – that a form of mercury in the MMR vaccine was linked with autism, vaccination rates went down and the incidence of measles increased.

In 2006, Britain witnessed its first death from measles in 14 years. Before vaccination hundreds of children died from the virus, which causes encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in one out of every thousand cases and permanent brain damage in one out of every 4,000 cases.

Subacute sclerosing pan-encephalomyelitis, a fatal infection of the brain occurs in one in every 100,000 cases. Other complications include a severe cough and breathing difficulties, ear infections, viral and bacterial lung infections, and eye infections. In infants under 12 months, and among children who are malnourished or who are deficient in vitamin A, these complications can be much more dangerous – especially in the developing world.

But vaccination has, according to the World Health Organization, reduced the global number of deaths from measles from an estimated 873,000 in 1999 to 345,000 in 2005.

Even though there has been even more research disproving the connection between vaccination and autism, and no medical authority in the world believes there is a connection; and even though thimerosol was removed from vaccines six years ago, and the incidence of autism has not decreased, the conviction that there is a conspiracy going on haunts popular debate over vaccination.

Enter ABC with Eli Stone, a new legal drama airing on Jan 31, whose protagonist, a lawyer, has visions telling him to abandon his big pharma clients, and save the little guy. As the New York Times reports, Stone, quite figuratively on behalf of little guys and gals everywhere, takes on the evils of vaccination.

Yes, forget for one moment that vaccines have saved millions of kids around the world from death and the ravages of infectious disease, because that’s no longer part of the liberal playbook according to the show’s writers. Instead, Stone targets a preservative in flu vaccines, “mercuritol” a thinly-disguised proxy for thimerosol. Here’s how the Times article by Edward Wyatt describes what follows:

“Is there proof that mercuritol causes autism?,” Eli Stone says to the jury in summing up his lawsuit against the vaccine maker. “Yes,” he says. “Is that proof direct or incontrovertible proof? No. But ask yourself if you’ve ever believed in anything or anyone without absolute proof.”

How about reasonable proof? Or much better proof than the evidence mounted by the vaccines = autism brigade? Nah. Stone wins the day (isn’t there an anti-cliche vaccine that we could give Hollywood writers and producers?).

The co-creator and an executive producer of the show, Greg Berlanti, tells the Times that “As a show, we want to keep the conversation going after people turn off the television.”

Perhaps he and the presiding powers at ABC should have first asked themselves whether they were striking a very real blow against the little guy (or gal). What if the show is successful enough to lead some parents to forego vaccination, and what if some of those kids are very, very unlucky, and die?

It was precisely for this reason that the American Association of Pediatrics demanded the premiere episode of Eli Stone to be cancelled:

A television show that perpetuates the myth that vaccines cause autism is the height of reckless irresponsibility on the part of ABC and its parent company, The Walt Disney Co.,” said Renee R. Jenkins, MD, FAAP, president of the AAP. “If parents watch this program and choose to deny their children immunizations, ABC will share in the responsibility for the suffering and deaths that occur as a result. The consequences of a decline in immunization rates could be devastating to the health of our nation’s children.”

By the legal standards of the show’s “to hell with absolute proof” attitude, someone, by rights, ought to be able sue ABC for reckless endangerment. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. And the only possible recourse is to shame them into adult responsibility, viz, ‘what next? Eli Stone takes on AIDS – “it’s the drugs that cause AIDS, not HIV!”‘

Fortunately, in the real world, courts apply a much more stringent standard of truth on scientific testimony, as they did recently in Baltimore, excluding, as consequence the plaintiff”s entire line-up of expert witnesses in a vaccine autism suit.


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