Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stossel on the Costs of Playing it Safe

The indispensable John Stossel turns his attention to the latest scare campaign: the effort to keep parents from vaccinating their children because of supposed uncertainty about the risks of the vaccine. I for one, have heard a great deal about the increase in diagnosed cases of autism, and speculation about the link to children's vaccines. I'm glad to read Stossel's explanation of the likely reason for that increase:

"I think that it's perfectly reasonable to be skeptical about anything you put into your body, including vaccines," said Offit. "And vaccines do have side effects. But vaccines don't cause autism."

Offit can say that with confidence because the National Academy of Sciences recently reviewed the science. They concluded that 19 major studies, tracking thousands of kids, all show no link between vaccines and autism.

"The question has been raised, it's been answered," said Offit. "Vaccines don't cause autism."

Then why are so many kids being diagnosed with autism? Because kids we once said had other conditions are now being called autistic.

As researchers from the March of Dimes put it, "improvements in detection and changes in diagnosis account for the observed increase in autism." Their data on autism rates in California showed that the increase in autism diagnoses almost exactly matched a decline in cases of retardation: autism prevalence increased by 9.1 cases per 10,000 children, while mental retardation dropped by 9.3 per 10,000.

"People that we once called quirky or geeky or nerdy are now called autistic," said Offit. "Because when you give that label of say, autistic spectrum disorder, you allow that child then to qualify for services which otherwise they wouldn't be qualified to get."

Read too, Stossel's criticism of his own show - 20/20.

And here's the sad conclusion:

Mary Catherine recovered, but she's one of many kids who are coming down with diseases doctors once thought were nearly eradicated, like mumps, measles, and whooping cough.

These diseases are coming back because pockets of frightened parents won't vaccinate their kids, some, after they search for information and end up on websites like Barbara Loe Fisher's. I asked Fisher about how sites like hers scare parents.

"You're really the vaccines' scare center. When you scare people stupid, and they don't get vaccinated, that spreads nasty diseases," I said.

"I don't think I've scared anybody stupid. We do not tell people to vaccinate or not vaccinate," she replied.

Fisher says she can't say whether vaccines are "good or bad."

"You can't say vaccines are good, vaccines haven't done more good than harm?" I asked?

"It's a complex issue," she said.

Take the risk: vaccinate your kids.

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