The Vaccine War
Tuesday, April 27, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS
Vaccines have changed the world, largely eradicating a series of terrible diseases, from smallpox to polio to diphtheria, and likely adding decades to most of our life spans. But despite the gains—and numerous scientific studies indicating vaccine safety—a growing movement of parents remains fearful of vaccines. And in some American communities, significant numbers of parents have been rejecting vaccines altogether, raising new concerns about the return of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.
In The Vaccine War, airing Tuesday, April 27, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE lays bare the science of vaccine safety and examines the increasingly bitter debate between the public health establishment and a formidable populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists who are armed with the latest social media tools, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and are determined to resist pressure from the medical and public health establishments to vaccinate, despite established scientific consensus about vaccine safety.
“Scientifically, I think the matter is settled,” says Anders Hviid, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark. In one of the largest and most comprehensive epidemiological studies available, Hviid and colleagues analyzed data on more than a half million children and found no link between the MMR “triple shot” for measles, mumps and rubella and an increased rate of autism—a link that’s been strongly asserted for years by anti-vaccine activists. Similar epidemiological studies in Denmark also failed to reveal a link between the mercury preservative thimerosal and autism. In fact, around the world, peer-reviewed epidemiological studies have found no link between autism and either the MMR shot or thimerosal.
But vaccine skeptics like celebrity Jenny McCarthy, whose son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism following a series of vaccinations, including MMR, are convinced that further study into the other 15 pediatric vaccines and their additives will ultimately reveal a link. “Something happened. And when I say something, I mean a behavior, a trigger,” McCarthy tells FRONTLINE. “Is it mercury? Is it the schedule? Is there just too many? My answer to people and what I’ve been telling them is, ‘It’s all of the above.’ We don’t know for sure, which is why we keep saying, ‘Study it.’”
Further vaccine safety research is what businessman J.B. Handley, who founded the autism support group Generation Rescue, has been calling for, too. Handley tells FRONTLINE he has little doubt that vaccines are responsible. “There is no real-world study that shows me that those six vaccines didn’t cause my son’s autism.”
Audience Engagement: Beginning one week before broadcast, Wednesday, April 21, visitors to FRONTLINE’s web site can interact with medical experts who will be responding to comments and answering questions. Visitors can also take a survey featuring five key questions about their attitudes toward vaccines, and find out how well their responses match responses from a nationwide survey.