Yesterday morning I was a guest on ABC Radio National’s “Late Night Live” program (audio link) in conjunction with the release of the Australian edition of The Panic Virus. (Coincidentally, I also received my copy of the AU edition yesterday afternoon.) It was an interesting program: A little more talk about 9/11 conspiracy theorists than I’m used to, but clearly vaccines were of much interest to the host and the audience.
When I got off the line and checked my email, I saw a message from David McCaffery, whose four-week-old daughter, Dana, died in March 2009 after being infected with pertussis. The McCafferys live in New South Wales, and I got to know them while working on my book (their story is included in the preface to the Australian edition). “Sad news, Seth,” David wrote, before pointing me to a story about a newborn baby in Melbourne who died last week of whooping cough. (More information about vaccine awareness efforts in Australia can be found on Dana McCaffery’s Facebook page.)
I know for many, whooping cough remains an abstraction, a scary-sounding disease that disappeared decades ago. It isn’t, and it didn’t. It’s a powerful, dangerous disease–and not just for children, as more and more adults around the world are discovering.
Closer to home were the “eleven influenza-associated pediatric deaths [that] were reported” in the week ending February 5 in the United States, according to the CDC. (Note: that link is a generic one for the CDC’s latest weekly flu reports, so the data will change as time goes on. Click on the image below for a screen shot of the February 5th report.)
It’s realities like this that make me so angry at the irresponsibility of journalists and news outlets that gussy-up half-baked speculation and disproven rumors about vaccine “injuries.” All of us — meaning the community of reporters and writers and bloggers and broadcasters who inform the public about health and science as well as parents who choose not to vaccinate their children — need to be honest with ourselves: Words have meaning and actions have consequences. No matter how many times Oprah Winfrey extols Jenny McCarthy’s “mother instinct,” no matter how loudly Jay Gordon insists he knows vaccine cause autism because he’s seen it happen, no matter how often Bob Sears reassures parents that it’s unlikely anything bad will happen if they don’t vaccinate their children, and no matter how fervently David Kirby “believe[s] that more children today are more susceptible to vaccine injury and other environmental triggers,” the fact of the matter is there has never been shown to be a causal link between vaccines and autism. There is, on the other hand, most definitely a causal link between vaccine-preventable diseases and a whole range of potential outcomes — and as parents around the world discovered last week, those outcomes can include death.