February 28, 2017 - Many of us in the public health community were disheartened and angered last week when Mr. De Niro and Mr. Kennedy held a news conference questioning the safety of vaccines due to their inclusion of mercury. Mr. De Niro and Mr. Kennedy raised the stakes by offering $100,000 to someone "who can find a peer-reviewed scientific study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe in the amounts contained in vaccines currently being administered to American children and pregnant women." Well, on behalf of Healthcare Ready, we accept that challenge and we’re here to accept that check.
This type of media circus distracts us from the bigger public health issue at hand. By waving around a pot of money, they are inflicting a terrible cost on public safety. While the continuous attacks on the issue of vaccine safety by Mr. Kennedy, Mr. De Niro and others, may seem like a joke to many Americans, it is anything but.
The book has been closed on the question of vaccine safety. Study after study has demonstrated that vaccines are safe, including the flu vaccine which contains thimerosal. The bottom line is that communicating misinformation destabilizes our health security and jeopardizes public health for the most vulnerable populations. While we don’t believe this dangerous distraction is their ultimate aim, we ask Mr. De Niro and Mr. Kennedy to review the peer-reviewed evidence they so publically requested.
To answer their call for one peer-reviewed study demonstrating that thimerosal is safe – I’m happy to provide four such studies, all of which prove that there is no causal association between thimerosal containing vaccines and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These have been published in highly respected journals including, The New England Journal of Medicine, Pediatrics, JAMA: The Journal of American Medical Association and a second study in Pediatrics.
On the other hand, the sole study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield which started the controversy and fueled the argument that pediatric vaccines are linked to ASD has been thoroughly debunked numerous times and seen by many as deliberate scientific fraud. The study has been retracted and all valid peer-reviewed research has demonstrated the safety of vaccines.
In our work building community resilience for times of disaster or disease outbreaks, we see firsthand the importance of vaccines, from tetanus for first responders, to the yearly flu shot which simply saves lives. Attention grabbing media events, like we saw on Wednesday, accomplish the exact opposite and endanger the health of the most vulnerable among us, especially children and pregnant women.
This is even more important in the midst of widespread flu throughout the country. During the last week in January alone, five children tragically died from the flu. Any efforts to reduce confidence in such a critical preventative measure that has been proven safe through rigorous scientific research, endangers public health.
We must also remember the incredible impact of vaccines for the advancement of public health over the last century. In 2014, the CDC estimated that vaccinations would prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the past two decades over the course of their lifetimes.
And while we’d love the check made out to Healthcare Ready, we’d love even more for everyone to get their flu shot, this year and every year, and protect their families and friends.