The epidemic in question is the myth that vaccination causes autism.
As a result of this dangerous misinformation, many autistic children are being exposed to quack treatments like chelation (which has already claimed at least one life) and bizarre dietary restrictions, and are in many cases apparently being denied treatments such as ABA therapy that have been shown to significantly improve ability to function in the world, based on the belief that their condition is due to "toxins" rather than to a fundamental difference in the neural wiring of their brains. Worse, many parents have been scared out of vaccinating their children, a decision whose consequences are potentially devastating. Already we are seeing a resurgence of serious and even potentially fatal diseases such as measles that, as far as the daily lives of citizens of most developed countries were concerned, had effectively been eradicated due to vaccination - there have recently been outbreaks of measles in many parts of the United Kingdom and San Diego in the US. In choosing not to vaccinate for reasons other than ineligibility, parents endanger not only their own children but the children of others by compromising "herd immunity" (Wikipedia cited for convenience, No Red Herrings Please).
Many well-designed and methodologically sound studies have been conducted on the effects of vaccines, and study after study after study has failed to find any link between vaccines in general (and the ingredient thimerosol in particular) and autism rates. Nevertheless, due to the contributions of wealthy backers and celebrities such as J. B. Handley and Jenny McCarthy, the inexcusable abdication of journalistic integrity, especially in the United States, by much of the media, and the emotional, often wrenching testimonials of parents who have bought into this myth due to misinformation and/or a desperate need to find "an enemy they can see" (so to speak), this epidemic untruth is still spreading.
The following email has been posted on a number of weblogs dealing with neurological and psychological issues, several of which stand out as good sources on the campaign and why it matters. It comprises a call for parent volunteers to take a stand for sound science, evidence-based medicine, and the health and safety of our children by providing their own stories to help counter the testimonials of the anti-vaccine movement in the court of public opinion. While the campaign, having been launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is presumably mainly looking for spokespeople in the United States, if you fall into either of the categories listed in the letter, please consider writing back to the letter writer at this address and inquiring about volunteering. Similarly, if you know someone who falls into these categories, please consider passing this information on. Finally, as far as I'm aware this email may be freely copied and disseminated for information purposes, so if you're inclined, please don't hesitate to post or forward it.
As part of our ongoing response to media stories regarding autism and vaccines, the AAP communications department is compiling a list of parents who support the AAP and are available for interviews. We are looking for two types of parents who could serve as spokespersons:
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders who support immunization and who do not believe there is any link between their child’s vaccines and his or her autism.
Parents of children who suffered a vaccine-preventable illness. This could be a parent who declined immunization, whose child became ill before a vaccine was available, or whose child was ineligible for immunization.
We are asking for your help identifying parents who would be good spokespersons. They do not need to be expert public speakers. They just need to be open with their story and interested in speaking out on the issue. We will contact candidates in advance to conduct pre-interviews, to offer guidance on talking to reporters and to obtain a signed waiver giving us permission to release their name.
If a parent were placed on our list, we would offer their name and contact information to select media. We hope to build a list of parents from a wide range of geographical areas.
As the Jenny McCarthy and “Eli Stone” stories illustrate, this issue is likely to recur in the national and local media. The AAP is committed to doing all we can to counter such erroneous reports with factual information supported by scientific evidence and AAP recommendations.
The anti-vaccine groups often have emotional family stories on their side. The ability to offer a reporter an interview with a similarly compelling parent who is sympathetic to the AAP’s goals is a powerful tool for our media relations program.
Please contact me if you have any questions or to suggest a parent to interview.
Susan Stevens Martin
Director, Division of Media Relations
American Academy of Pediatrics
[EDIT]Misstated the title; not sure "future parents" are what they're looking for. Also fixed a link.
Edited by Azkyroth, 19 February 2008 - 09:44 AM.