Vaccine-autism debate flares up again

The vaccine-autism debate may fire up once more after CBS News reported that the family of Hannah Poling, an autistic girl once at the center of the debate, will be awarded $1.5 million by the federal government for “injuries” related to her vaccinations. The government said vaccines aggravated an unknown mitochondrial disorder that didn’t cause autism, but resulted in it.

Poling was center stage a couple years ago when the federal government ruled vaccinations didn’t cause her conditions, but played a role. The ruling also aggravated the debate of whether vaccines were the culprit in autistic people. The ruling itself was actually a settlement originally declared in 2007 before the case went to trial, and the case was then sealed. Keep in mind, the ruling came down long before Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study was ruled dishonest and unethical. Jenny McCarthy and then-boyfriend Jim Carrey were also involved in promoting vaccine safety, with McCarthy claiming vaccinations caused her son’s autism. Strange as it sounds to talk about events that happened only two years ago, there are many changes in how autism is approached on several fronts. I’ve documented several of them on my blog.

 

While chatter will likely increase as people are reminded about this story, the developments outside the Poling case create an interesting context. Without Wakefield’s ruling, this story might carry more force, despite CBS reporting that all other cases similar to Poling’s have been defeated at trial. A recent CNN story (which I’ll discuss in detail on a future blog) reported 18 studies after Wakefield’s findings were published that found no link between vaccines and autism. Mainstream news reports investigating the possible connection have essentially vanished since Wakefield’s ruling. However, it’s not uncommon for journalists to do follow-up stories on major events or people, and CBS was doing exactly that when it reported the settlement amount for Poling’s family. Although nearly 5,000 cases are awaiting disposition in federal vaccine court, I doubt we’ll get much coverage unless another ruling is made that supports the supposed link between autism and vaccines. News organizations stopped writing articles after coming across several studies that refuted a connection a couple years ago.

Choosing an amount of coverage for a news story is tricky, outside of major events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. A skeptical audience plays a large impact on what gets reported. Go crazy and consumers will be annoyed and/or desensitized to the issue, as was the case with the heavy saturation of H1N1 stories in 2009. Go light and folks may question an organization’s values if they skimped a story the audience deems valuable (this includes celebrity gossip). The only constant is events, such as sports competitions, the State of the Union address and holidays.

While the impact of the Poling settlement may not carry as much force as it did two years ago, I doubt this will be the last time the vaccine-autism link is explored in journalism. There’s too much emotional electricity for the topic to short itself out.

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Mike Peden
Mike Peden brings a rarely discussed perspective on autism news: he was diagnosed with the disability in 1991. His explorations on autism led to an Alliance for Community Media Hometown Video Award in 2008 in the Documentary - Public Awareness category, and he currently deciphers evolving trends in autism coverage.
Mike Peden

Mike Peden

Mike Peden brings a rarely discussed perspective on autism news: he was diagnosed with the disability in 1991. His explorations on autism led to an Alliance for Community Media Hometown Video Award in 2008 in the Documentary - Public Awareness category, and he currently deciphers evolving trends in autism coverage.

0 thoughts on “Vaccine-autism debate flares up again

  • September 21, 2010 at 10:47 pm
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    My
    granddaughter, who is seven, is autistic. She has lived with us
    (grandma and grandpa)since she was two. Autism is a very hard illness to
    diagnose and even harder to deal with. We have read and listened to a
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    Reply
  • September 20, 2010 at 7:36 pm
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    @thedommediaries@xanga – Yeah definitely. It isn’t the only cause of Autism and it doesn’t only cause Autism, so there could be a lot of different situations and outcomes.

    Reply
  • September 20, 2010 at 12:04 pm
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    @bettinatron@xanga – Why aren’t all the families of autistic kids suing then? Is it possible to actually find the correlation in some cases but not others?

    I’m just massively confused about this.

    Reply
  • September 19, 2010 at 10:19 pm
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    @bettinatron@xanga – then how were to they know of that mitochondrial disorder? That unknown one? The doctors anyhow? I think personally these people are stupid. Doctors don’t know everything to a single patient and shouldn’t when they don’t know something that’s unknown…and it’s not possible really..

    It just happened because it happened. 
    It’s sad but it happened. 
    I just don’t like how the american people can sue over ANYTHING. It’s beyond ridiculous. People are always blamed for something. It’s a sorry country that i live in when responsibility is shifted. 

    Reply
  • September 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm
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    When is anybody mainstream going to report on the big news of the day. The new ground breaking book The Age of Autism Mercury Medicine and a Man-Made Epidemic. Read it & you will never look at the world the same again. TannersDad Tim Welsh Autism Advocate

    Reply
  • September 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm
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    How can they get a settlement when the parents consented to their kids getting vaccines? That makes no sense to me. It’s like no one even pays attention to what they’re shooting their kids up with these days.

    I always assumed that vaccines were like any other medical procedure where “X, Y, and Z could happen randomly and by signing this medical release you’re blah blah blah”

    Guess not?

    Reply

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