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Snyderman on Today

July 28th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Narrative

Dr. Nancy Snyderman is an unabashed defender of vaccines and, as medical editor for NBC News, a highly visible advocate for evidence-based medicine. Her zealous, no-nonsense attacks on anti-vaccine activists stand out from the lackluster and clueless reporting of others in the news and entertainment media.  She rightly pointed out, for instance, that among bona-fide medical experts there is no controversy regarding vaccines and autism. That confrontation with Matt Lauer, which you can watch here, alerted science writers across the country that they were being snookered by shady anti-vaccine spokespersons who insisted the jury was still out.

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Snyderman was back to promoting vaccines on the Today Show this morning, as the topic turned to California’s pertussis outbreak. As usual she came out swinging, laying the blame for six infant deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations on parents who delay or withhold vaccines. Unfortunately, Snyderman did not get all of her facts straight when she said “last year we saw children die of measles”, and it was clear from the context she was referring to the US.  There is no record of a measles-related death in the US in 2009.

This is not to say measles is a childhood right of passage, leading to nothing more serious than a week away from school and an ice cream headache, as any anti-vaccine activists will tell you. Measles can also cause permanent brain damage and blindness. Just because most cases resolve themselves with no sequelae doesn’t mean measles is harmless. A major outbreak 20 years ago in the northeast US killed 130. And children died in the US last year from Hib (haemophilus influenza type B), which is probably what Snyderman meant to say. At 3:25 mark she says “Last year in Minnesota and in Philadelphia children died of measles.”

Hib killed an infant in Minnesota in Jan., 2009. Two children died in Philadelphia that same year. Before a vaccine became available, about 600 children died of Hib each year in the US. In 2009, the death toll was five.

But by getting her facts wrong, Snyderman opens herself to more attacks by anti-vaccine activists who have been portraying her for years as an uniformed fear monger. Which she isn’t. A little flustered maybe, but definitely better informed than the people who think measles is harmless, or that six dead infants are just collateral damage in Jenny McCarthy’s shameless climb off the Hollywood D-list.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sullivan // Jul 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I mentioned the spot by Nancy Snyderman in a post today too. I also noted the mistake she made.

    I also pointed out a more important point–the fact that the “altnerative” vaccine schedule promoted by Generation Rescue would leave infants and toddlers vulnerable to whooping cough. They don’t recommend pertussis vaccine until age 2.

    What is even more odd, their schedule is impossible to use. GR recommends families use single pertussis vaccines. I don’t know where in the world a single pertussis vaccine is licensed, but it isn’t in the US.

  • 2 Mike Stanton // Jul 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Good post. It is good to see that the pro-vaccine camp corrects its mistakes unlike the anti-vaccine camp which repeats its mistakes ad nauseam. I hope you have sent a copy to Nancy Snyderman.

  • 3 Sullivan // Jul 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    It will be interesting to see if groups like AoA jump on this mistake.

    Seriously, how foolish can they make themselves out to be? “Snyderman doesn’t know squat. It wasn’t the vaccine-preventable disease measles that killed those kids, it was the vaccine preventable HiB that killed them. ”

    Yeah. That sounds a lot better.

    Note that the “favorite” vaccine schedule touted by Generation Rescue offers zero protection against HiB.

    “We don’t recommend HiB vaccination. It kills and all, but we don’t recommend it. Don’t pay attention to that, though. Nancy Snyderman mistook measles deaths for HiB deaths!”

  • 4 Liz Ditz // Jul 29, 2010 at 1:42 am

    As somebody who often struggles with rapid automatic naming (RAN), I think it was that rather than flustered — you know, when you are looking right at child #1 & call them by child #2’s name, then the dog’s name, before you get to child #1’s name.

  • 5 autblog // Jul 29, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Good point. I also heard Dr. Nancy say a child with whooping cough “breathes” 50 or 60 times a minute. She probably meant “coughs”.

  • 6 Sullivan // Jul 29, 2010 at 11:20 am

    The only answer to this problem is that we need to get our medical advice from celebrities. They can go on the air and not get flustered.

    That’s worked out well so far, hasn’t it?

    (yes, that’s sarcasm).

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