Autism News Beat

An evidence-based resource for journalists

Autism News Beat header image 2

Vaccine Warning!

November 8th, 2007 · 12 Comments · Critical thinking, Kudos

In TV Newsland, the words “Vaccine Warning” are ordinarily followed by images of disabled children, grieving parents, and “alternative” health providers spouting junk science. But WTMJ, Milwaukee’s NBC affiliate, went against stereotype last night with a report that unvaccinated kids are at risk for preventable diseases.

Not exactly dog-bites-man news, but by TV Newsland standards, an epiphany. There was no doubt that WTMJ is pro-public health when reporter Shelley Walcott interviewed a smug Christian Scientist father who defended not vaccinating his two daughters:

“And when we had kids I decided, what is the most effective, direct way I can provide health care for them. And that was relying on Christian Science.”

“There will be a number of people watching this at home who will say you are being unfair to your kids. How do you respond to that?”

“By demonstration. I have two healthy kids who have never taken shots.”

The report briefly sputtered when it cited “intense debate” about vaccines’ role in autism, and there was the obligatory Jenny McCarthy reference. Fortunately, Dr. Richard Olds, Chief of Medicine for the Medical College of Wisconsin, steered the story back on track by reminding us that evidence still counts for something, even in TV Newsland.

“You have to ask yourself if there is scientific evidence that suggests there is a valid reason not to receive a vaccination.” About a recent outbreak of whooping cough he said “It’s because too many people have chosen for whatever reason not to get the vaccine. And now that’s becoming a public health problem.”


Walcott’s report left some important questions unanswered: What is the news media’s role in spreading misinformation and fear about vaccines? If Jenny McCarthy can convince some parents that vaccines damaged her kid, can Shelly Walcott convince others that scientific evidence still means something?

More, please.



12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Maddy // Nov 8, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    For me it’s fairly straightforward. For instance there are many deaths per year from simple influenza. Last week both my boys had the worst asthma attacks they’ve had in several years. The flu vaccine may not be as effective some years as others, but my boys are more vulnerable than most.
    Best wishes

  • 2 isles // Nov 8, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Three cheers for WTMJ! I hope this is a harbinger of stories to come.

  • 3 Ms. Clark // Nov 8, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Adding three more cheers for WTMJ!

    I hope other tv news stations will be as aware of their responsibility to their viewers and themselves.

    I would love to see NBC/Newsweek to do a major retraction on their stupid “autism the hidden epidemic” garbage from a couple of years ago.
    The insidious leavings of Bob Wright.

    Apparently NBC recently posted a story saying the increase in diagnoses is not necessarily indicative of a real increase in autism. ABFH wrote about it on her blog.

  • 4 Kristina Chew // Nov 9, 2007 at 12:13 am

    After spending my spring break at home with Charlie, sick with flu, I would say some preventative measures are not a bad idea, at all.

  • 5 Rita Swan // Nov 9, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Christian Scientists and other groups opposed to vaccinations have had many outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. In the 1980s a Wisconsin girl contracted diphtheria at a Christian Science camp in Coloado and then traveled on a bus with many other unvaccinated children to Wisconsin where she died.
    The largest measles outbreak in this country since 1992 was set off by an unvaccinated Christian Science child. There were 247 cases of measles from that, and the disease spread far beyond the Christian Science school where it began.

  • 6 Marla // Nov 11, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Very interesting blog here. I will have to come back and read more soon. A hot topic for sure.

  • 7 Timelord // Nov 12, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    I can’t find it on the Net at the moment, but Paul Offit is a member of a group called “People For Immunisation” – which pretty much follows the same principles as this report. It doesn’t mention Christian Science, but that’s beside the point. They recognise that there is an issue with the scaremongering in general regarding vaccines, and it needs to be addressed PDQ.

    This TV report is a great step in the right direction. Because certainly the thiomersal panic has no scientific back up, and neither does the MMR – this must be put in it’s box to make the proponents of this so-called theory put up or shut up. It certainly is a risk to public health, and the sooner it’s dealt with the better.

    I don’t think the Cedillo case in the Vaccine Court can be underestimated as a major player here when the decision is handed down sometime in hopefully early 2008.

  • 8 Dr. Raymond Carlson, O.D. // Aug 3, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    With regards to the “vaccines and autism debate”, it seems that opponents of Christian Scientists (not vaccinating their children) always bring up the fact that the unvaccinated children (of Christian Scientists) are getting preventable diseases like measles, diptheria, etc. The real issue is WHAT IS THE INCIDENCE OF AUTISM IN THIS GROUP OF CHILDREN?????
    At the very least, the rates of autism in the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups could be analyzed and compared. If the rates of autism are similar, we all have our answer. If the rates are quite different (to a statistically significant degree) researchers can then begin looking for a cause for the difference.

  • 9 autblog // Aug 4, 2008 at 5:34 am

    Another issue: how many children of Christian Scientists have ASDs, but are undiagnosed because their parents reject professional medical care? How many of those kids suffer from measles-induced encephalopathy? Numbers of Christian Scientists vary, from 400,000 worldwide to 100,000 in the US and 15,000 in the rest of the world. There’s 1,500 known congregations in the US. How many CS children would we need to sample to detect 1:150?

    And finally, who among the anti-vaccine movement would be satisfied if such a study, impractical as it is, showed no difference in prevalence between CS and the population at large? We already have several dozen well-done studies that show no support for the discredited vaccine-autism link. We’re not going to reason people out of a hole they didn’t reason themselves into.

  • 10 rplyon MD // May 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Where are the statistics in autism with Christian Science. It is my contention that it is the overwhelming shock to the immunity system with 20 or more vaccines before age 2, that is the agent. The problem surfaced in 1980 when s the vaccination schedules burgeoned. It seems to me the Christian Science experience along with the Amish is critical to a conclusion, and I can’t get the data. Why not?

  • 11 AutismNewsBeat // May 16, 2010 at 7:55 am

    The Amish vaccinate, and they have autism.

  • 12 Chris // May 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I would not use Christian Scientists as a source of child health. They have not been doing well in that regard over the past several years:

    According to the article the church has been experiencing a decline in memberships, which may or may not be due to the publicity of children who died from not getting medical treatment. It seems now that they are more relaxed about getting medical treatment, especially for children (this might actually include vaccines).

    On further searching there was a blog on an outbreak of measles in Boston centering on Christian Science members: … the church (which has its headquarters in Boston) sent some clarifying notes. They include this paragraph:

    The Church also provided information to its members about the situation, including how to get vaccinated. The Church neither encouraged or discouraged vaccinations, and has no policy against the procedure. Members of the church make their own decisions, and some chose to be vaccinated at their own will.

    You are more than welcome to go to Boston and ask the church leaders for their statistics. But you’ll more than likely get a variation of the above paragraph saying that they actually do allow childhood vaccinations (even though there have been disease outbreaks in Christian Science schools and camps, see )

    By the way, rplyon “MD”… What are the “bad” vaccines that were introduced after 1980? Was it the newer improved DTaP? Or was it the IPV versus OPV for polio (which was actually replacing the newer vaccine for the original)?

    Was it the Hib? How do you propose preventing the meningitis from Hib without a vaccine?

    Which diseases are you willing to have return in full force?

    Do you think that the changing criteria for autism diagnosis in the DSM would have been a factor?

Leave a Comment