Vaccination has greatly diminished death, illness and suffering in the world. But no other medical technology has been so dogged with controversy. The book chronicles the development of the key lifesaving vaccines since the 18th century. It tells the stories of great scientists and their discoveries, of the protests and pain along the stumbling path of progress. This is the first book to tell the whole story of vaccination for a general audience. In light of controversies about flu vaccine and autism, it will be of particular interest to parents, pediatricians, public health workers and anyone fascinated by medical history. Read More>>

Also Available: Table of Contents and Index

Arthur Allen is a Washington DC-based journalist who has written on vaccine issues in The New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, The New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Salon and Slate.


CBS Sunday Morning - "A Shot in the Arm'

I was interviewed by CBS Sunday Morning a few weeks ago for a program on vaccination that aired today, April 1st. They did a nice job unearthing historical footage about vaccines, including some film of Salk vaccinating kids against polio. Unfortunately, they didn't handle the autism question very well. I wrote the following letter to one of their producers:

Dear [name redacted]

I’m so sorry I didn’t have a chance to talk with you about the script of the show. While I am grateful that you interviewed me and have no complaints about your handling of me and my book, I feel very bad about the message your piece put out, and sad for the parents who were misinformed and may neglect to vaccinate their kids, sad for parents of autistics who continue to believe a false explanation of the cause.

There were two grievous problems with your show. First, you presented the claims of the parents of the autistic boy, and of Barbara Loe Fisher, without giving anyone a chance to rebut them. There is an actual debate over whether vaccines cause autism—although the vast majority of people familiar with the debate have rejected the thesis. But your show didn’t even get into this. You suggest instead that the debate is over whether it’s worth sacrificing children to autism in the name of preventing a resurgence of polio and measles. That’s a false debate. No one in the medical community would be willing to embrace vaccines if they knew they caused autism. But they don’t. Do you understand the distinction here? If presented with a choice between measles and autism, the parent naturally chooses measles.

Neither I nor any of the doctors or scientists were given a chance to refute the autism theory. You say that the “medical establishment” doesn’t believe it, but that’s a distortion. It is the science that doesn’t support the theory. I realize you probably didn’t have time to do the research to understand this yourselves, but you should have allowed a scientist, or me, to say it.

Also, you present a deep piece of misinformation when you have Martha overvoice the 17,000 reports of vaccine injury and add that these are an underestimate. Did anyone explain to you the significance of these VAERS data? They are actually a huge overestimate of vaccine injuries. I wish you had taken the time to understand this issue, or left it out.

I understand TV’s need to have an autistic child and parents on camera. It’s dramatic, a better image than that of a doc in a white coat talking reassuringly. And it’s difficult to find parents who are willing to admit that their child almost died of whooping cough because they were too stupid to vaccinate him or her. Autism is dramatic, it can be awful, and from the perspective of these parents, it was caused by vaccines. But your show didn’t even present a debate about autism.

I feel so bad that your show added to the misinformation on this subject. I wonder what I could have done to make it better.




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Damn straight. That was one bad piece of journalism.

Kevin B. O'Reilly

As a reporter who has screwed up before and will screw up again, I've to say it would kill me to get a letter like this. Devastating!

arthur Allen

I've screwed up many times as a journalist. And I've suffered when it has been pointed out to me. But I was a better man for it - and a better journalist. And it has to be done.

In this case the screwup is not in the facts but in the spin. I haven't heard from CBS on this but I suspect they would respond by saying, "we got our facts right, and we were being fair and balanced." The thing is, because they have no investment in the truth in this issue, they probably structured the piece simply to make a good story. The 'spin' of the facts is incidental to that, unfortunately. The pull of the suffering parents' narrative is very strong, whether or not it pulls you in the direction of the truth.


Can you explain this bit further -

"Did anyone explain to you the significance of these VAERS data? They are actually a huge overestimate of vaccine injuries."

Are you referring to the unverified nature of VAERS & the fact that autism claims have flooded the system? Is there anything else I'm missing? Curious because the CDC does say that lots of vax reactions go unreported as well. Not sure what the proportion is of false claims to unreported incidents. Thanks!

Sarah Collins Honenberger

Whether you believe vaccines can cause injuries or conditions like autism, you can't fault parents for wanting the full facts. As long as the drug companies refuse to stand behind their profucts, consumers will doubt their honesty. If they believe in the HPV vaccine, why do they need legislation to mandate it and why did they ignore the doctors they hired to do the trials when they said it wasn't tested sufficiently on 11-12 year old girls. To say nothing of why girls should be barred from school (and not boys) for a non-contagious disease that has nothing to do with school attendance. Starting to smack of a Middle Easterner we've aligned with the devil.

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