AAP vs. ABC

Update: The AAP is no longer alone, as the AMA has issued a letter to ABC. And life wouldn’t be in balance if the Immunization Action Coalition didn’t weigh in as well!

I probably shouldn’t frame this issue as a “vs.” smackdown, but it makes for an easy title. Plus, if the conversation on PedTalk about this (and from what I’ve heard from SOAPM) is any indication, perhaps I’m not exaggerating. The AAP has issued a request to ABC that it run a disclaimer during an upcoming episode of the show “Eli Stone” in which “…the title character successfully argues in court that a vaccine caused a child’s autism.” Here it is in their words:

Anne Sweeney
President, Disney-ABC Television Group
47 W. 66th St.
New York, NY 10023-6290
Dear Ms. Sweeney:
According to The New York Times, ABC plans to run an episode of “Eli Stone” in which the title character successfully argues in court that a vaccine caused a child’s autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of 60,000 pediatricians, is alarmed that this program could lead to a tragic decline in immunization rates. The AAP calls on ABC to cancel the episode.

Many people trust the health information presented on fictional television shows, which influences their decisions about health care. In the United Kingdom, erroneous reports linking the measles vaccine to autism prompted a decline in vaccination and the worst outbreak of measles in two decades, including the deaths of several children.

ABC will bear responsibility for the needless suffering and potential deaths of children from parents’ decisions not to immunize based on the content of the episode. If ABC persists in airing the show, the AAP urges the network to include a disclaimer emphasizing: No mercury is used as a preservative in routinely offered childhood vaccines. No scientific link exists between vaccines and autism.

Vaccines are the single-most powerful, cost-effective public health intervention ever developed. A network as influential as ABC must consider its responsibility not to promulgate messages that undermine the years of efforts by the AAP and public health community to persuade parents to vaccinate and protect their children. The consequences of a decline in immunization rates could be devastating to the health of our nation’s children.

Sincerely,

Renee R. Jenkins, MD, FAAP
President

I don’t know if the show in question is will be any good, but the description of it doesn’t make clear how they actually derive a series from the premise. I’ve read a couple of the Autism blogs screaming about this – I’m not going to give them links – and it just goes to show again how a small, hyper-vocal number of people can really taint an issue. I’ve seen two references to the letter above as “hysterical” (as in “crazed” and not “funny”).

What I wonder is if it would be better for the show to run, but with a good presentation about the science at the end? Sometimes, and I know I’m not alone, I think the AAP should purchase advertising on TV and speak directly to the public on matters like this.

If you would like to voice your concern about this episode, let ABC know here.

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