This post first appeared on the blog Minority Thought. It is reproduced here by kind permission.
In the week that Dr Andrew Wakefield’s claim linking the MMR jab with autism was dismissed by the British Medial Journal as a “deliberate fraud” and a “hoax”, the Sunday Express is on the look-out for another vaccine scare (click to enlarge):
The article, written by Lucy Johnston, the Sunday Express’ Health Editor, states that:
UP to a million under-fives have been inoculated against the flu virus with a controversial vaccine containing poisonous mercury.
Inquiries by the Sunday Express reveal it contains a preservative made with a form of mercury that was phased out of childhood vaccines in 2004 after fears about its safety.
The preservative, called thimerosal, has been linked with autism and developmental disorders in children and was withdrawn from childhood vaccines in the United States and parts of Europe 10 years ago.
The story seems to be based around comments made by Dr Richard Halvorsen:
Dr Richard Halvorsen, author of the book, The Truth About Vaccines, said: “Thimerosal is an extremely toxic substance and known poison to the brain.
“There is enough convincing evidence linking thimerosal with developmental disorders and learning problems in individual children to warrant its removal from any childhood vaccine.
“It is irresponsible to administer a jab with little proven benefit which contains potentially harmful toxic substances.”
For a bit of context, it’s worth pointing out that Dr Halvorsen describes himself on his website as being “trained in acupuncture and homeopathy”.
And for a bit more context, it’s worth mentioning that Lucy Johnston, the author of today’s article, was also responsible for the following stories: “Jab ‘As Deadly As The Cancer'”, “Doctor’s MMR fears”, “Exclusive: Experts Cast Doubt On Claim For ‘Wonder’ Cancer Jabs”, “Children ‘Used As Guinea Pigs For Vaccines’”, “Dangers Of MMR Jab ‘Covered Up’”, “Teenage Girls Sue Over Cancer Jab”, “Jab Makers Linked To Vaccine Programme”, “Suicides ‘Linked To Phone Masts” and many more besides.
Vaccine scare stories are clearly her “thing”.
Although the article includes several statements dismissing the claim that thimerosal poses a danger to children, the article is clearly weighted in the opposite direction.
No mention is made of the lack of evidence for a health risk until the fifth paragraph, by which time we’ve already been told that the vaccine contains “poisonous mercury” and that it’s “linked with autism and developmental disorders in children”. Concerned parents who only want to do right by their children will most likely have already made up their minds about the vaccine.
This is the kind of journalism that causes real harm. Certain vaccines or medications, like thimerosal or the MMR jab, may well be “controversial”, but such articles are almost always unwilling to trust the science over the fears of a few “experts”.
As the Express say at the end of their article:
[B]oth the Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Agency and the Department of Health insist there is no evidence of harm from vaccines containing thimerosal.
Furthermore, a quick trip to Wikipedia shows that the link between thimerosal and autism has been rejected by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Medical Toxicology, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the European Medicines Agency.
Faced with overwhelming rejection of the thimerosal-autism link by the scientific community, the Express’ article should have been far more careful not to scare parents. They should have mentioned straight away that the science simply doesn’t back-up Dr Halvorsen’s claim.
They clearly value selling papers more highly than fair and reasonable journalism.