Anti-vaccine Stories Sell Papers, Children Suffer

Written by Natasha Burgert MD

A recent Baltimore Sun op-ed headline popped with an eye-catching and concerning title. It read, “We don’t know enough about childhood vaccines.”

After reading the headline, I immediately raised my eyebrows and took a deep breath. As a pediatrician who recommends and administers vaccines during my clinic time with children, I thought

“We don’t?”

I continued to read Ms. Dunkle’s commentary with the goal of learning something new, something relevant. Keeping up-to-date with medical science is an important part of my job. I need to be confident and certain, to the best of my ability, in the recommendations I give my families. As a advocate for the health of children, I owe my patients and their families that dedication. So, if there is peer-reviewed, evidence-based data that challenges or disputes current medical practice, I need to know.

In that framework, the opinion piece by Ms. Dunkle was sorely disappointing. She attempts to report on “new” findings revealed in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health claiming to associate increased vaccination rates with increased rates of autism and speech/language impairments. She attempts to poke and prod at the reader, trying to pick a fight about semantic details; events, doses, shots. Then she quickly turns the corner, bringing up intentionally alarming half-truths about vaccine components, preservatives, and stabilizers.

Ms. Dunkle, however, failed to mention a very important point. The author of the reported study, Gayle Delong, is not a scientist, a medical doctor, or doctorate researcher. Ms. Delong is a economics professor with expertise in “international finance” and “money and banking” (as listed on her public CV.) More importantly, she is also on the executive board of a large, anti-vaccine group. The results obtained by Ms. Delong’s research have been shown to be biased and statistically flawed by additional reviewers. Therefore, the interpretations made from her analysis need, at minimum, recalculation.

With a small amount of fact-checking and investigation into these stories, the intention of the authors quickly become clear. Ms. Dunkle and her analysis is a great example of how anti-vaccine groups create junk studies to promote fear. And how media outposts, eager for a hot headline, will regurgitate this information with complete disregard of the potential effect this propaganda could have on our children.

Anti-vaccine stories sell papers, your child suffers.

In the face of the resurgence of measles and other vaccine preventable illness, it is unfortunate that the editors of the Baltimore Sun allowed this manipulation of its readers.

For an additional response to Ms. Dunkle’s commentary, click here.

Dr. Burgert is a pediatrician. She works at Pediatrics Associates in Kansas City, MO .  She is a distance runner and enjoys road races around the city. She also has a passion for travel that will certainly lead to many memorable family vacations with her husband and two children. And, of course, she bleeds Husker red. Dr. Burgert regularly blogs at kckidsdoc.com

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4 thoughts on “Anti-vaccine Stories Sell Papers, Children Suffer

  1. Thanks Dr Burgert. Your take, your work in determining the author’s angle and agenda, and your clear picture help all of us understand just a bit more.

    It is all about the headlines. And newspapers do have to sell. I don’t think we’re going to change that particular reality easily. But we have the work of science, the power of our voice, and the benefit of expertise to help utilize the facile tools of social media to get the word out.

    As you know, I contend we are obligated– ethically– to share information online. Our patients need us here. This is a perfect example as to why…

    Great work. And thanks for all your excellent writing and perspective.

  2. What an excellent analysis. If anyone is foolish enough to engage the anti-vax movement, they are assaulted by “studies” purported to show vaccines are dangerous. The reality is that there is not one single reputable study showing this and everything they have brought forth has been published in questionable “journals” by people closely affiliated with the delusional world view that vaccines are a conspiracy by big pharma. I am glad that she has taken a few moments to unmask the useless nature of this so called study. I am disgusted by reputable media outlets that continue to give space to this type of garbage and at the alleged “journals” who publish the stuff.

  3. The Baltimore Sun has continued to run opinion pieces spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about vaccine safety and efficacy, as Steven Salzberg wrote at Forbes

    http://blogs.forbes.com/stevensalzberg/2011/07/17/the-baltimore-sun-sinks-deep-into-anti-vaccination-quicksand/

    I wonder about the Sun’s editorial board or connections to anti-vaccine groups. I wonder why the Baltimore Sun was so lackadaisical about pursuing reports that a doctor and his son (Mark and David Geier) were administering dangerous quack treatments for autism in Maryland. It took the Chicago Tribune to really get on the case.

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-05-21/news/chi-autism-lupron-geiers-may21_1_vaccines-and-autism-mark-geier-autism-research

  4. Pingback: Vaccines: Why Your Pediatrician May Ask You To Go Elsewhere « Survivor: Pediatrics

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