Oprah should devote a show to vaccine safety


I am sure Oprah had spectacular ratings for her Lance Armstrong interview and so, in the spirit of truth-telling, I have another mea culpa show for Ms. Winfrey to consider: vaccine safety.

Until Jenny McCarthy got major air time the link between vaccines and autism was relatively fringe. But with Oprah in September of 2007 McCarthy, and by extension Andrew Wakefield, the erroneous link between vaccines and autism hit the jackpot. Oprah, instead of producing a show with any kind of balance simply read a brief statement from the CDC to counter McCarthy’s 45 minute diatribe of warrior-mom-against-the-world. Whether by design or by chance Dr. Bob Sears’ vaccine book was published the very next month and the rest, as they say, is history.

Vaccine rates plummeted, reportable diseases made a resurgence, and pediatricians everywhere groaned. Also, millions of dollars were spent re-studying vaccines to try to prove to the now skeptics that vaccines are indeed safe. The problem? The crux of McCarthy’s and many other vaccine “warriors” is that their beliefs are propped up by conspiracy theory, not science or even common sense.

Now we have a new study that tells us American children are still woefully behind on their immunizations: almost half of the more than 300,000 children studied over four years were undervaccinated. This, despite the fact that there is a plethora of scientific evidence showing vaccine safety.

We as a society have spent millions of dollars proving something that was already known (money that could have gone into studying the cause of autism or testing therapies). A lot of this research has been government-funded, so we paid with our tax dollars. I don’t decry spending tax money on research, but proving something that was already known, over and over again, to try to convince those fueled by conspiracy theories kind of sticks in my craw.

So the mea culpa I want to see is Oprah devoting a show to vaccine safety. I want scientists and doctors. Oprah can use her broadcast arsenal to draw attention to the recent Institute of Medicine’s incredibly comprehensive look at vaccinations that finds ”no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule.” I also want to hear how vaccine skeptics have profited from their snake oil.

Just like Oprah wanted the truth from Lance to be public, I’m sure she wants the truth about vaccines to get the press it deserves. It’ll be a fascinating hour, don’t you think?

Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.


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