Tag Archives: mmr

Journalists around the country track vaccination rates

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

As many are reporting, the measles outbreak has parents and officials questioning state laws that allow unvaccinated children to attend school, under religious or philosophical exemptions. Forty-eight states allow religious exemptions, according to this map from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

News organizations are compiling interactive maps, databases and other widgets to show vaccination rates by state and, sometimes county. Some allow searching for specific schools.

USA Today has searchable data on exemptions in 13 states, with more to come. The states it covers include California, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and West Virginia. (Update: As of Feb. 9, it has added Arkansas, Georgia, Washington and Wisconsin.) Continue reading

Online comments lead to BMJ’s disclosure of ‘competing interests’

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In BMJ, Bob Roehr wrote about a report published by German researchers in the Canadian Medical Association Journal describing an apparent tendency for journals that accept pharmaceutical advertising to publish more positive drug-related articles than those that depend on subscription dollars to pay the bills. The study and the Roehr’s summary are good reading in their own right, but the comment section is where things really get interesting.

There, Age of Autism UK editor John Stone points to a commentary penned by the Alliance for Human Research Protection’s Vera Hassner Sharav and draws into question BMJ‘s sources of funding. His main focus is the tension between that publication’s Andrew Wakefield investigations and its receipt of money from an arm of Merck.

Sharav’s language is somewhat incendiary, but it’s BMJ editor Fiona Godlee’s response to her commentary (and Stone’s post) that push the whole thing into the realm of the remarkable. Godlee weighs in on everything right there in the comment thread, admitting that BMJ had not disclosed those conflicts of interest in the Wakefield stories simply “because it didn’t occur to us to do so,” given that it was a story focused on research fraud rather than upon vaccines and medicine.

Although Vera’s claims may seem far fetched on this occasion, she is right that we should have declared the BMJ Group’s income from Merck as a competing interest to the editorial (and the two editor’s choice articles) that accompanied Brian Deer’s series on the Secrets of the MMR scare. We should also, as you say, have declared the group’s income from GSK as a competing interest in relation to these articles. We will publish clarifications.

The whole chain of events is a promising sign that increased interactivity in online publications may lead to increased transparency, and it’s well worth reading, at the very least, all of Roehr’s story and the comments that follow it. All the key bits are there.

BMJ: Wakefield’s vaccine-autism study fraudulent

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The Internet and other media are abuzz with the news, published by BMJ yesterday, that the study published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield linking autism to the MMR vaccine was fraudulent. The study of 12 children is frequently cited as proof that vaccines cause autism or play a part in the disorder, despite the fact that it was retracted. The BMJ calls the study “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically” in a new editorial.

Covering Health has compiled some links to interesting reading on this subject, much of it specifically for journalists.

Ivan Oransky, on Embargo Watch, looks at an entirely different facet of the news with “Does a tweet break an embargo? A case study involving the BMJ, autism, vaccines, and an alleged hoax.”

Meanwhile, Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, writes that the Wakefield MMR/autism dismantling demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Andrew Wakefield last night about the charges that his study was flawed. And Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who reported the BMJ story, was interviewed on CNN’s World Report.

Update: Seth Mnookin, who has spent two years looking into vaccine scares, has written an interesting post about the topic, including his view that BMJ over-hyped its story, which almost certainly helped drive media coverage. Mnookin also appeared on CNN.

By sending out breathless press releases and prepping the worldwide media for a series of bombshell stories, the BMJ created the impression that this was fundamentally new news – and it wasn’t. We knew that Wakefield’s work wasn’t reliable or accurate on January 3 – and we still know that today. The stories that are currently running are not really all that different in tone or content than the stories that ran almost exactly a year ago, when a UK medical panel found there was sufficient evidence to justify stripping Wakefield of his right to practice medicine.

Covering Health posts

Tip sheets

  • Background on autism from Pauline A. Filipek M.D., director of the Autism Program for OC Kids Neurodevelopmental Center and associate professor of clinical pediatrics and neurology at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.
  • Investigating alternative treatments for autism: Trish Callahan & Trine Tsouderos, of the Chicago Tribune, wrote “Dubious Medicine,” a look at the world of alternative treatments for autism, treatments that are often risky and unproven.

Contest entries

Covering Medical Research

Covering Medical Research

Learn how to analyze and write about health and medical research studies with AHCJ’s latest slim guide. It offers advice on recognizing and reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals and it includes 10 questions you should answer to produce a meaningful and appropriately skeptical report. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a road map to help you do a better job of explaining research results for your audience.

Mumps outbreak hits more than 1,500 in N.Y., N.J.

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

More than 1,500 cases of mumps in New York and New Jersey have prompted the CDC to update the public on the outbreak in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

According to the CDC, the outbreak appears to have originated with an 11-year-old boy who returned from a trip to the United Kingdom and then attended a summer camp for observant Jewish boys. The illness was transmitted to other attendees and staff members and has since spread as those people returned home. The CDC says 97 percent of the people with mumps “are members of the tradition-observant Jewish community.”

Child with mumps (Photo: Public Health Image Library)

Child with mumps (Photo: Public Health Image Library)

The CDC’s report includes information about how many of the people found to have mumps have been vaccinated – 88 percent had received one dose and 75 percent had received two doses.

The CDC says that, since 1967, when the mumps vaccine was licensed, to the early 2000s, the number of reported cases has gone from 186,000 to less than 500 annually but points out that “the effectiveness of the mumps component of the MMR vaccine is lower than that of the measles and rubella components.”

“The CDC hypothesized that the relatively closed social world of the communities and the large family sizes within them have played a role in preventing the disease from spreading further,” according to a brief from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Newspaper: Landmark autism study used fixed data

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

An investigation by the Times of London finds that “The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism.”

Andrew Wakefield’s research was published in The Lancet in 1998 and involved just 12 children. However, once it was published, the paper reports that rates of inoculation fell from 92 percent to below 80 percent.

The Times‘ investigation, which it says has been confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council:

“In evidence presented to the GMC, however, there has emerged potential explanations of how Wakefield was able to obtain the results he did. This evidence, combined with unprecedented access to medical records, a mass of confidential documents and cooperation from parents during an investigation by this newspaper, has shown the selective reporting and changes to findings that allowed a link between MMR and autism to be asserted.”

Review finds no link between vaccines, autism

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A review of 20 studies has concluded that there is no link between vaccines and autism. The review, “Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses,” is published in the Feb. 15 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

In an invited article (PDF), Jeffrey S. Gerber and Paul A. Offit, Division of Infectious Diseases, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, report that:

“Twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism. These studies have been performed in several countries by many different investigators who have employed a multitude of epidemiologic and statistical methods. The large size of the studied populations has afforded a level of statistical power sufficient to detect even rare associations.”

The review looked at three common theories about how vaccines are linked to autism:

  1. the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism by damaging the intestinal lining, which allows the entrance of encephalopathic proteins
  2. thimerosal, an ethylmercury-containing preservative in some vaccines, is toxic to the central nervous system
  3. the simultaneous administration of multiple vaccines overwhelms or weakens the immune system

Offit says that fears about vaccines are pushing down immunization rates and having a real impact on public health. “Parents should realize that a choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice. It’s just a choice to take a different, and far more serious, risk.”