Ok....maybe not the most provoking comment, but I do think this is central to the problem of the constant resurgence of vaccine fears, and the autism fear, in particular. I am more and more convinced that the vaccine suspicion comes from a displaced sort of distrust and anxiety that is hard for people to articulate. Children and the "future" of our nation are tropes that get invoked all the time, throughout history, as a sort of infallible position. How can you argue that parents shouldn't be concerned about their offspring? If you couch a more generalized anxiety about the state of the world in the context of the "future" (think the nuclear ads of the 70s (I think, I wasn't born or watching t.v. then) with kids picking flowers), it's pretty hard to counter resistance. I may need to come back and edit this -- early morning incoherence, I fear.
Although I agree with Bazelon that vaccines are probably not the direct or sole cause of the rise in autism (increasing diagnoses, among other things, may in fact be contributing to the rise in numbers), I do think she misrepresents the CDC's information. Leach and Fairhead, in their book Vaccine Anxieties, phrase it best when they say that the scientists/government are arguing that the absence of evidence is the same as an evidence of absence. These are not the same thing, as Leach and Fairhead wisely point out.
I am sympathetic to the difficulty that scientists and doctors have in persuading the public that vaccines are not harmful, but I also think we need to look more closely at why parents are not convinced by the amazingly lukewarm assertion by the CDC, "there's no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines." The vaccine frenzy is related to plenty of convincing evidence that the government does not want to be accountable for harm caused to patients when pharmaceutical companies behave irresponsibly. Instead, as with the case of Ortho-Evra and the debate around "pre-emption" (which would make the FDA's approval of pharmaceuticals sufficient for excluding pharmaceutical companies from any lawsuits causing harm), it appears that corporate interests are driving government regulation of medicine more and more.
More on vaccines and autism -- now with presidential candidates!
Slate has an article about McCain's pandering to the public by suggesting that vaccines and autism may be related. The editor continues to point out that Obama has also encouraged the association, and that Clinton has certainly not helped to dispel the myth. I couldn't resist responding. Here's my post: