PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War

16 Apr

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.

19 Responses to “PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War”

  1. passionlessDrone April 16, 2010 at 16:26 #

    Hello friends –

    I love Frontline. Their piece on the over medicated child was good, their series on Iraq and Afghanistan was gripping, as long as you could get past the tragedy. I somehow doubt we’ll see the nuance I think needs to be portrayed, but I’ll probably watch it and others.

    – pD

  2. AutismNewsBeat April 22, 2010 at 13:40 #

    I agree. Frontline is usually well researched and thoughtful, without resorting to false balance and other lazy tricks of the trade. I’m hopeful that the report will be evidence-based, and will pull no punches.

  3. Dewey Fish April 24, 2010 at 21:05 #

    I kind of Trust Frontline… That said There is bound to be SOME whitewashing as to allow this to be on TV and Probably More PRO Vaccine rather that The TRUTH…

  4. Chris April 25, 2010 at 15:38 #

    Dewey, the truth is that the data show no casual relationship between vaccines and autism. The data show that vaccines protect against diseases, diseases that are much more dangerous than any vaccine side effect.

    If you have scientific evidence that supports that the vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases, please present it. Just remember that it has to real, verifiable evidence — not a news report, a web page or a blatant assertion.

  5. Maz April 27, 2010 at 07:16 #

    chris, if you have evidence that supports that the vaccines are 100% (not 90% or 80%) effective at preventing disease in the short and long term and are 100% guaranteed safe with no side affects then Im sure there would be no need for debate about whether to vaccinate or not. we are told to vaccinate against measles, but wait, you still might catch measles but we promise it wont be as bad as it could have been if you were not vaccinated….. I think Ill take my chances with the disease and keep my body neurotoxin free thanks.
    Some of you might like to ask to see and read the packet insert for the vaccine/flu shot you are about to receive or have your child receive before you get the jab.

  6. Tim April 27, 2010 at 14:17 #

    Maz of course vaccines are not 100% effective, nothing is. And of course some people will experience side effects or bad reactions, this happens with every drug. Claiming these as reasons to stop taking vaccines is absurd. The simple truth is, vaccines prevent or at least reduce the severity of an illness in most people who receive them. Furthermore, by increasing the number of people who have the vaccine, it helps to prevent these diseases from spreading, saving even more people from getting this disease. By choosing not to vaccinate yourself, you are not only putting yourself at risk but, if enough people think like you, you end up putting many other people at risk for disease like measles, mumps, and others. If you aren’t going to take a vaccine for fear of side effects, then you probably shouldn’t take any medication, and that’s fairly ridiculous.

  7. Chris April 27, 2010 at 16:29 #

    Maz is evoking the “Nirvana Fallacy.” Absolutely no one (who knows what they are talking about) has very claimed vaccines are 100% effective nor 100% risk free.

    The sad fact is that pertussis is presently killing infants, yet Maz will reject the DTaP because it is only 80% effective.

    Measles is known to cause a bad outcome in 1 out of 1000 cases of the real disease. These are things like deafness, blindness, real neurological damage and even death. But Maz would rather have measles than the MMR vaccine because it is “only” 90% effective and has about a 1 in a million chance of bad side effect, and a more common side effect of a fever.

    If you wish to avoid and all “neurotoxins” then you should find another planet. The bacteria that are around, especially the tetanus type that live in the soil, create worse neurotoxins than in any vaccine.

  8. johnson April 27, 2010 at 21:19 #

    show us the actual tests that prove the efficacy of vaccines. I’ve heard about them from the folks that made, and therefor PROFIT, massively, from them, but that’s it.

    web definition of efficacy, btw:
    capacity or power to produce a desired effect; “concern about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine”

    not my quote, but a very common thought.

    look to the cdc website for an idea about how little they actually work. follow the diagram showing the declining rate of disease, with no lowering spikes when vaccines are introduced. nothing changes except the cashflow of companies in it for profit. with the better standard of living came the reduced rate of disease. period.

    now follow the newly introduced vaccines and the spikes in neurological problems.

    I keep my kid eating organics, happy and full of love. if he gets sick, most likely he will be ok(1 in 1000, OF THOSE THAT GET SICK, AN ALREADY SMALL NUMBER)

    TO SAY THIS”1 in a million chance of bad side effect” IS COMPLETE BS, AND IS BUILT ON NOTHING. hom many cases go unreported? how long does it take to set in(long-term illness attributed to vaccines are hard to detect)

    if it were a non-profit move to get the public vaccinated I might fell a little better about it. a little.

    many major groups and doctors arguing FOR vaccines are on the big-pharma payroll. bet you didn’t know that…

    • Sullivan April 27, 2010 at 21:34 #


      here’s a thought–

      people were all eating organics in the 1700’s and 1800’s. That didn’t stop disease outbreaks.

      Vaccines work. If you have heard differently, you heard wrong. The number of people who catch diseases go down as vaccines are introduced. If you want some references, I can provide them. I’ve blogged results a few times on this site.

  9. Chris April 27, 2010 at 21:34 #

    johnson, first you must prove you are actually literate.

  10. Dedj April 27, 2010 at 21:39 #

    Johnson, if you’re going to dismiss the evidence that you’ve already admitted knowledge of, on the basis of a very poorly thought out and quite amusing little conspiracy – why should any of us bother with you?

    Really, show us the evidence that you are a worthwhile opponent, and not just YET ANOTHER egocentric oh-so-special little crank, then we’ll talk.

    I have a feeling your next response will not address any of the concerns about your quite bizarre and mildly concerning world-view, nor will you address any of the multiple articles that already deal with your misrepresentation of the CDC/public health records.

    Thanks for trying though. You best get back to your schoolwork young man.

  11. Joseph April 27, 2010 at 22:04 #

    show us the actual tests that prove the efficacy of vaccines

    There’s this tool called Google Scholar. It’s very cool. Do try it out.

    • Sullivan April 27, 2010 at 22:32 #

      Funny coincidence–

      just as someone asks for proof of the efficacy of vaccines, I get an email from the CDC listserve (which anyone interested in vaccines could sign on to…including our commenter):

      Page updated with article from Emerging Infectious Diseases: Effects of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 2 Years after Its Introduction, the Netherlands

      The link shows that in the 2 years after the PCV-7 vaccine was introduced in the Netherlands, the incidence of the diseases protected by that vaccine dropped 90%.

  12. ANB April 27, 2010 at 22:32 #

    “Show us the actual tests that prove the efficacy of vaccines. I’ve heard about them from the folks that made, and therefor PROFIT, massively, from them, but that’s it.”

    Here ya go:


  13. brian April 28, 2010 at 03:26 #

    The link shows that in the 2 years after the PCV-7 vaccine was introduced in the Netherlands, the incidence of the diseases protected by that vaccine dropped 90%.

    Undoubtedly the incidence of those diseases was dropping before the introduction of the vaccine, and the Netherlands just as certainly must have recently and dramatically improved sanitary standards. Or something.

  14. Elizabeth April 30, 2010 at 07:39 #

    Google Dr. Jay Gordon and the Frontline story on Huffpost for the most measured discussion of vaccinations AND the absurdly biased report that Frontline produced this week.

  15. Chris April 30, 2010 at 17:10 #

    Thanks Elizabeth! I found this great comment:


  1. Some commonalities of pro- and anti-vaccination rhetoric - March 4, 2012

    […] PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War (leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk) […]

  2. PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War | Left Brain Right Brain – International Badass Activists - August 26, 2020

    […] Source: PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War | Left Brain Right Brain […]

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