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Autism Debate May End Up Harming Children


Everyone supports further study of medical issues. But wishy-washy government positions on the safety of the MMR vaccine can lead parents to believe that safety is truly at issue. That's the subliminal message of these hearings, and it's a wrong message.

The harm that Burton can cause may be beyond measure. Vaccines are the underpinning of our disease-prevention programs. Imagine a world in which children routinely contracted measles, mumps, and polio, just to name a few diseases that vaccines have virtually eliminated.

Public-health officials already are challenged to assure that all children, particularly those in low-income and disadvantaged neighborhoods, obtain all their shots. Undermining the public's confidence in vaccines, which may be the ultimate effect of Burton's crusade, can make it more difficult to obtain universal immunizations.

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of publicly stated opposition to Burton's position. It's not that the public-health community believes what Burton is saying. It's that the public-health community is not taking Burton seriously enough. They do not believe that a single congressman-grandfather, no matter how powerful his committee chairmanship, can reverse broad public acceptance of immunization programs.

Burton is acting as a grandfather might. But his actions as a congressman come under a different level of scrutiny. In this case, when you read about Burton's hearings, remember that you're hearing the voice of an angry grandfather, not a public-health official. And don't forget to get your kids vaccinated according to the CDC schedule.

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