Tag: false balance

What Is the One Conversation Vaccine Event?

Anti-vaccine folks are always interested in having debates about vaccines.

Why?

It helps create the impression that all views about vaccines are equally valid – the facts and science of those who support vaccines and the misinformation and pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement.

Of course, they aren’t.

There is no longer a debate. Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary. Anti-vaccine points have been refuted time and again.

What Is the One Conversation Vaccine Event?

But that’s what the One Conversation Vaccine Event in Atlanta was supposed to be.

And instead of a debate, as organizers Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas originally planned, their “esteemed panel” consists of a who’s who of the modern anti-vaccine movement:

Where’s RFK, Jr and Wakefield? And Kelly Brogan?

But Shelly Wynter, the prominent FM Radio Talk Show Host who is moderating the One Conversation Event will make sure that things don’t end up leaning to any one side, right?

“Next up were Bro. Tony Muhammad and his friends who are helping to get the word out about vaccines. The point being made by the anti-vaccine advocates is the message that the vaccines are poison. Not one of them was making the argument that vaccines are not necessary; but that the CDC and its government masters are poisoning the vaccines. History tells us that this should not be thrown out so easily as a conspiracy theory. It must be investigated more and we should not be so quick to believe the “Government” over credible doctors who have blown the whistle.”

Shelly Wynter

I wouldn’t bet on it…

What about the organizers?

Shannon Kroner hosted a screening of VAXXED... with Brittney Kara, the woman who said God is against vaccines.
Shannon Kroner hosted a screening of VAXXED… with Brittney Kara, the woman who said “believing in vaccines is a mental disorder.”

Can’t be any bias against vaccines for Shannon Kroner or Britney Valas, right?

The Children's March for Humanity implied that vaccines are the cause for all childhood chronic diseases.
The Children’s March for Humanity implied that vaccines are the cause for all childhood chronic diseases.

Integrity? Neutrality? Sure…

Even the idea that funding from individual donations couldn’t bias the event is suspect.

“To maintain the integrity and neutrality of One Conversation, the One Conversation organizers purposely chose to not publicly fund raise nor tie the event to a specific organization or special interest group. Funding for One Conversation is provided by ticket sales and individual donations of which are heavily contributed personally by Dr. Kroner and Ms. Valas.”

Individual donations from whom?

Big donations from just a few individuals, like Claire Dwoskin of the CMSRI and Barry Segal of Focus for Health, would likely help fund a big event like this, but certainly wouldn’t do much to help maintain its integrity or neutrality.

So what can you expect from the One Conversation Vaccine Event?

Pay just $115, and you can find out.

In addition to “learning” about Public Health and Immunity from folks who have said that vaccines are full of toxins, you will get dinner and 2 drinks.

Or skip dinner and pay just $15 for the event.

“One Conversation” provides the platform for questions to be addressed among an esteemed panel of participants who specialize in a spectrum of specific focuses and expertise.

Will you get a real conversation about vaccines?

It’s doubtful.

“One Point of View” might have been a better name for the event…

More on the One Conversation Anti-Vaccine Event

Why Are You Still Worried About the MMR Vaccine?

We know why most folks got scared of the MMR vaccine.

Who's to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?
Who’s to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?

And most of us remember when most folks welcomed the MMR vaccine the end of endemic measles in the United States.

Why You Were Worried About the MMR Vaccine

Of course, that all changed when Andrew Wakefield spoke at the press conference for his 1998 Lancet paper and said:

“And I have to say that there is sufficient anxiety in my own mind of the safety, the long term safety of the polyvalent, that is the MMR vaccination in combination, that I think that it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines, that is continued use of the individual measles, mumps and rubella components… there is no doubt that if you give three viruses together, three live viruses, then you potentially increase the risk of an adverse event occurring, particularly when one of those viruses influences the immune system in the way that measles does. And it may be, and studies will show this or not, that giving the measles on its own reduces the risk of this particular syndrome developing… the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines…. People have been saying for some time, people on the periphery of autism, have been saying for some time that this may well be related to bowel damage.”

Although there was no evidence for any of that, vaccination rates went down and measles rates went up – the Wakefield Factor.

MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn't fully recover until 2012.
MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn’t fully recover until 2012.

But no, it wasn’t one person at a press conference that us lead down a decade of worry about the MMR vaccine.

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

Andrew Wakefield had plenty of help!

Not only from anti-vaccine celebrities, but from the media and their scare stories.

Why Are You Still Worried About the MMR Vaccine?

But that is all old news.

Over and over again, we see new studies that show that the MMR vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism.

Andrew Wakefield’s work was never replicated.

The MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal and doesn’t even contain aluminum, which I mention only because those are ingredients that some folks get scared about, not because they are harmful.

Vaccines are safe. The MMR vaccine is safe.

And more and more, as predicted, we are seeing why vaccines are necessary – more and more outbreaksOutbreaks that are proving to be deadly.

Why are you still worried about the MMR vaccine?

Because anti-vaccine folks are still scaring you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids!

Don’t listen to them!

More on MMR Vaccine Fears

What Ever Happened to the Lyme Disease Vaccine?

A Lyme disease vaccine, LYMErix, was approved by the FDA in 1998.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer stopped making it a few years later.

What Ever Happened to the Lyme Disease Vaccine?

Although Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection, the bacteria is transmitted to people through tick bites. Not surprisingly, the original Lyme disease vaccine didn’t attack ticks, it attacked the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in those ticks, before they could cause an infection.

A new Lyme disease vaccine would be welcomed in the 14 states where the majority of Lyme disease cases are reported.
A new Lyme disease vaccine would be welcomed in the 14 states where the majority of Lyme disease cases are reported.

After three doses, LYMErix was found to be 78% effective at preventing Lyme disease.

Unfortunately, unverified reports of vaccine side effects, especially arthritis, were hyped by the media and anti-vaccine groups and led folks to avoid the vaccine.

In their article, “Concerns Grow Over Reactions To Lyme Shots,” The New York Times even gave equal time to doctors from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, who push the idea that folks need treatment for chronic Lyme disease.

Another vaccine, ImuLyme, didn’t even bother applying for FDA licensure at the time.

“In 2002, in response to low vaccine uptake, public concern about adverse effects, and class action lawsuits, SmithKline Beecham withdrew the vaccine from the market despite the fact that both pre- and post-licensure safety data showed no difference in the incidence of chronic arthritis between those who received the vaccine and those who had not.”

The History of the Lyme Disease Vaccine

Interestingly, a more current article in The New York Times, “Lyme Disease Is Spreading Fast. Why Isn’t There a Vaccine?,” doesn’t mention the media’s role in bringing down the vaccine.

“But the company took it off the market less than four years later, citing low sales, amid lawsuits from patients who said the vaccine caused severe arthritis and other symptoms… The high cost of the vaccine and confusion over who should get it and how many doses were needed didn’t help its prospects.”

Lyme Disease Is Spreading Fast. Why Isn’t There a Vaccine?

And that’s likely why we continue to see false balance in their reporting, as we see them interview a group who is “skeptical about the new vaccine.”

A new vaccine that hasn’t even made it into phase II trials yet!

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

The media’s role in scaring folks about vaccines isn’t new.

Unfortunately, the impact of the media on the anti-vaccine movement has been felt far beyond Andrew Wakefield, the MMR vaccine and measles outbreaks.

“As we ask how to weigh public health benefits of interventions against potential risks (notably incurred by identifiable individuals), the LYMErix case illustrates that media focus and swings of public opinion can pre-empt the scientific weighing of risks and benefits in determining success or failure.”

The Lyme vaccine: a cautionary tale

Hopefully, folks have learned their lesson though. How many people have developed Lyme disease since LYMErix was withdrawn from the market? After all, Lyme disease should still be a vaccine-preventable disease.

More on the Lyme Disease Vaccine

Anti-Vaccine Censorship on Facebook

If you ever wander into a holistic parenting group or a vaccine group that claims to offer “both sides” to educate folks about vaccines, you will, or at least you should, quickly notice that all of the posts and replies sound eerily alike.

This toddler might end up with tetanus because of bad information in this anti-vaccine group.
This toddler might end up with tetanus because of bad advice in this anti-vaccine group.

If a parent asks about a tetanus shot for their child’s wound in one of these groups, no one will suggest that they rush to their pediatrician and get it.

The only disagreements you might see are whether they should treat the wound with colloidal silver, black salve, garlic, urine, activated charcoal, tea tree oil, raw honey, essential oils, or some other non-evidence based therapy.

Anti-Vaccine Censorship

It is no accident that folks get uniform advice against vaccines in these so-called vaccine “education” groups.

The comment that got me banned from posting on Phyicians for Informed Consent.
As often happens on anti-vaccine sites, my comment about tetanus shots was quickly deleted and I was banned from posting further messages.

Anyone who goes against the “vaccines are dangerous” mantra of these groups typically has their comments quickly deleted and gets banned from the group.

Why?

“Echo chambers abound for many other conditions which are not medically recognised, from chronic Lyme disease to electromagnetic hypersensitivity. But perhaps most worrisome is the advance of anti-vaccine narratives across the web. The explosion of dubious sources has allowed them to propagate wildly, undeterred by debunking in the popular press. We might take the current drastic fall in HPV vaccine uptake in Ireland, driven by anti-vaccine groups like REGRET, despite its life-saving efficacy. While organisations including the Health Service Executive have valiantly tried to counter these myths, these claims are perpetuated across social media with little to stop them.”

Echo chambers are dangerous – we must try to break free of our online bubbles

To create an echo chamber of anti-vaccine myths and propaganda and help reinforce all of their anti-vaccine beliefs. And of course, to help scare parents who might be on the fence about vaccines.

After all, it is easier to feel confident in your decisions when you think that everyone else is doing the same thing. Of course they aren’t though. The great majority of people vaccinate and protect their kids.

It is only in these echo chambers of anti-vaccine misinformation that anyone would think that it would be okay to not get an unvaccinated toddler proper treatment for a cut, to skip a rabies shot after exposure to a rabid bat, or to not get travel vaccines before visiting high risk areas of the world.

That’s the power of confirmation bias.

And whether or not you realize it, confirmation bias is likely one of the reasons that you aren’t vaccinating and protecting your kids.

That’s why you need to step out of these echo chambers if you want to understand that vaccines are safe and necessary.

What to Know About Anti-Vaccine Censorhip

Anti-vaccine groups routinely censor, ban, and block messages from people who correct misinformation about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on Anti-Vaccine Censorship

Has the Vaccine Court Compensated over 70 Families for Autism?

Has the Vaccine Court ever compensated the family of an autistic child?

Kind of.

Hannah Poling is autistic and her family was compensated by the Vaccine Court. But she wasn’t compensated for autism.

“Because she had an existing encephalopathy (presumably on the basis of a mitochondrial enzyme defect) and because worsening of an existing encephalopathy following measles-containing vaccine is a compensible injury, Hannah Poling was compensated.”

Why was Hannah Poling compensated?

Hannah Poling was compensated because she had a table injury.

Has the Vaccine Court Compensated over 70 Families for Autism?

Remember the Autism Omnibus Proceedings?

Those were the test cases that represented three different theories of how vaccines could possibly be associated with autism. None of them were upheld by the Vaccine Court and none of the families were compensated.

“The devil is in the details. You can call autism many different things and it looks very much differently to different folks. But at the end of the day, the Vaccine Court has awarded over 70 families that their children now have autism and these children developed encephalitis, which is brain inflammation, that turned into autism. 70 families. And your viewers can google Hannah Poling and Baxter Bailey. Those are two of the most popular cases. And the U.S. government said to them, your child received autism because of this. I mean, they were awarded. So, it’s in the books.”

Liza Longoria Greve on KOCO News 5

So how could anyone be saying that over 70 families of autistic children have been compensated by the Vaccine Court?

"Reaching out for the other side" of some arguments simply allows them to push myths and propaganda.
“Reaching out for the other side” of some arguments simply allows them to push myths and propaganda.

I guess folks can say whatever they want, especially when the media doesn’t understand the idea of false balance and gives them a platform, after all, that’s how you explain much of propaganda of the anti-vaccine movement.

How can they say that encephalitis turns into autism?

Again, folks can say whatever they want, but this is actually a little different from what they usually claim, that autism is encephalitis.

Of course, it isn’t.

70 Families? Google It

So what happens if you ‘google it‘ and actually research Liza Longoria Greve’s claim?

We already know about Hannah Poling… Again, she has a mitochondrial disorder and autism and she was compensated because it was thought that she had an adverse event to getting vaccinated because of her mitochondrial disorder.

And Baxter Bailey? You don’t find anything if you look for Baxter Bailey, but you will eventually find information about Bailey Banks, who was compensated for (acute disseminated encephalomyelitis) ADEM, which led to Pervasive Developmental Delay (PDD). He wasn’t compensated for autism though.

Baily Banks was not compensated for autism.
Baily Banks was not compensated for autism.

What about the other families she is talking about?

A little more googling and you find that she is likely talking about an article,  Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury, that was published in the Pace Environmental Law Review in 2011 by Mary Holland, in which she reports finding “eighty-three cases of autism among those compensated for vaccine-induced brain damage.”

Instead of proof that vaccines cause autism though, Holland’s paper was little more than a “misleading recasting of VICP decisions.”

And vaccines are still not associated with autism.

What to Know About Vaccine Court and Autism

The vaccine court has never compensated anyone for so-called vaccine-induced autism.

More on Vaccine Court and Autism

Recommendations for Reporting About Vaccines

Historically, the media has played a huge role in pushing vaccine misinformation and scaring parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”

Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science

Even before Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax, the media helped fuel pertussis outbreaks by pushing the flawed research of John Wilson, which led to lawsuits against DPT vaccines and a big drop in vaccination rates.

None of it was true and the lawsuits failed, but the consequence was still that many unvaccinated kids died.

Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment "Vaccines: A Bad Combination?"
Bob Sears appearing on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment “Vaccines: A Bad Combination?” is a great example of false balance.

Many others in the media have done a great job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents.

Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years.

Important Points for Reporting About Vaccines

Still, despite what some folks might think, health journalists aren’t going to get in trouble for reporting about vaccines.

They are going to hear about it if they do a bad job though.

“…it is important to recognise that the balance of media reporting does not necessarily reflect the balance of the argument among the involved professionals – by this is meant that equal weighting might be given by the media (and thus the lay community) to those for and against the vaccine although opponents of vaccination might be a very small number, as for example happened with both pertussis and MMR.”

David Baxter on Opposition to Vaccination and Immunisation the UK Experience – from Smallpox to MMR

Remember, the way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

So be careful when reporting about vaccines, as it gives you the opportunity to correct many of myths that scare people, while educating folks about the topic you are covering.

You should also:

Are you ready to cover your next story about vaccines or the next measles outbreak?

What to Know About Reporting on Vaccines

The way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

More on Reporting about Vaccines

Recommendations for Reporting on Measles Outbreaks

Unfortunately, we hear news reports about measles outbreaks a lot more than we should.

We don’t get much information in many of those news reports though…

Anatomy of a Measles Outbreak Report

The big reason we don’t get a lot of information in those news reports is that many of them are simply repeating health department press releases.

A news release from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
A news release from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Those press releases often leave a lot of important information out though.

Although that information might not be available yet, if you are a journalist covering a measles outbreak, instead of simply repeating the health department news release, you might call the local or state health department and ask a few questions:

  • Where did the person get measles? Most cases these days are imported – an unvaccinated person travels out of the country and returns home with measles, starting an outbreak. If they didn’t recently travel out of the country, then there’s a problem – where did they get measles? Unless there is already an ongoing outbreak in the area, then that means someone else in the area has measles that we don’t know about.
  • Where did the person go while they were still contagious and might have exposed others?
  • Hold old are they and were they vaccinated?

Do we have a right to this information? While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects a person’s medical information, those rules don’t necessarily always apply in an emergency or outbreak situation. Plus, you are still getting de-identified information.

“Health care providers may share patient information with anyone as necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public.”

HHS on HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations

How is knowing someone’s vaccination status going to be helpful? Unvaccinated folks tend to cluster together, so knowing the person is unvaccinated, especially an unvaccinated child, might indicate that many more people have been exposed. But then, most measles outbreaks are started by someone who is unvaccinated

Important Points for Covering Measles Outbreaks

An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died.
The symptoms of measles include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. The rash doesn’t start until 3-5 days later, as the fever continues. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

In addition of covering the basics about the person with measles, there are other important points to cover, especially that measles is a vaccine-preventable disease!

Two doses of the MMR vaccine offers great protection against measles, and is especially important if you are unvaccinated and are going to travel out of the country. Even infants as young as six months old should get an MMR before international travel.

While most people hopefully know all that, they may not know:

  • the vaccination rates in your area schools
  • the non-medical vaccine exemption rates in your area schools
  • the number of measles cases in your area and in your state over the past few years
  • that measles is very costly to contain
  • that the incubation period for measles is 10 to 21 days after you were exposed, so it can take that long before you show symptoms
  • that they should warn their doctor or hospital before getting evaluated so that they can make sure you don’t expose other people, as measles is very, very contagious
  • that the quarantine period for unvaccinated people who have been exposed to someone with measles is typically up to 21 days after their last possible contact
  • that a dose of MMR within three days of exposure can help prevent your child from getting measles if they aren’t already fully vaccinated
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

You should also consider interviewing and quoting a local pediatrician and reinforcing the facts that vaccines work and they are safe.

And obviously, as we see with these outbreaks, vaccines are necessary.

You should avoid also false balance in your reporting.

You should fully cover each outbreak in your area, as they help remind people to get vaccinated and protected.

What to Know About Reporting on Measles Outbreaks

Journalists can help reduce the size of measles outbreaks with good reporting that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary and by reminding folks to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Recommendations for Reporting on Measles Outbreaks