Tonight on Frontline, “The Vaccine War” presents both sides of the controversy over whether young children should be vaccinated for diseases such as measles and polio, and in a rare display of TV-news common sense and independence, one side is shown to be — sorry — wrong. Frontline‘s documentary will, I hope, leave any sensible viewer feeling that you’d have be deluded or selfish not to have your kids vaccinated.
On one side, you have what the show politely calls the “vaccine-hesitant” but what I’ll call the vaccine-deniers, people who resent government laws that compel parents to have their children vaccinated by a certain age. These folks, who include Jenny McCarthy (shown here in happier days with Jim Carrey, as she makes a specious connection between vaccines and autism), take the government-off-our-backs position to an extreme. Their argument boils down to: So what if my kid gets the measles or chicken pox? It’s better than the wee ones absorbing the impure ingredients contained in vaccines (such as the so-called “MMR triple-shot” for measles, mumps, and rubella).
On the other side, you have rational people — scientists who’ve conducted studies like the one proving that, based on tests of a half-million children, there is no connection between the MMR and autism. “The Vaccine Wars” certainly doesn’t deny the anguish that parents such as McCarthy (whose son, Evan, has been diagnosed with autism) endure. But the hour distinguishes between emotion and fact. And history.
Because what becomes clear in “The Vaccine War” is that the current debate about vaccination has arisen primarily from the post-baby-boomer generation, which was the last generation that knew and saw first-hand the damage done by polio and measles outbreaks. The Gen-X parents are the first generation to live in a world without polio, and they make an absurd leap: I don’t see it, so it can’t be that bad. They depend on what’s called “herd immunity” — the notion that a majority of other parents will vaccinate their children.
And thus the vaccine-deniers can pursue their dangerously self-righteous agenda, secure in the knowledge that their little un-needled Jane or Johnny, should they contract a contagious disease, won’t cause a pandemic… because the rest of us are keeping such diseases at bay. Frontline suggests that some of the post-boomer generations believe in research they do themselves via Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter is as valid as independent scientific studies. I’d laugh at this if it weren’t so dangerous, leading to things like the Desiree Jennings hoax.
Frontline points to Ashland, Oregon, where about one quarter of the town’s children are not immunized. The town, a wealthy community filled with health-food stores and overflowing with yoga mats, is a hotbed of vaccine-deniers. And, scientists say, a dreadful example of what could happen, because it’s far more likely that, should measles or whooping cough enter that community, it would spread much faster than in a town where citizens are thinking beyond the walls of their own houses, and of the public good.
What makes this Frontline — “The Vaccine War” is written, produced, and directed by Jon Palfreman — so compelling is seeing the smugness of the vaccine-deniers contrasted with the facts and figures of the historical record and current studies being down about the efficacy of things like the MMR triple shot.
Watch it tonight and tell me what you think. Thanks.