My heart goes out to parents struggling to help their autistic children, but I fear they have been misled by another anti-drug industry scare campaign.
I know something about those from personal experience. Twenty years ago, "20/20" interviewed Allen McDowell, a lawyer who said the whooping-cough vaccine was defective. After our alarming report, many parents told their kids' pediatricians they didn't want the vaccine. Some doctors became vaccine shy.
When my daughter got a fever after one of the vaccines, her doctor decided not to give her the final shot. He said my being a "20/20" correspondent made him even more anxious about giving her the vaccine.
And a short time afterward, my daughter got whooping cough. Luckily, she recovered.
But after media reports like "20/20's" and well-publicized lawsuits, many people refuse to vaccinate their children. And America now sees more cases of whooping cough, mumps, and measles.
Says Dr. Offit. "Watch a child come into the hospital and die of measles, knowing that it can be safely and easily prevented by vaccines. It's very hard to live with that."
But Barbara Fisher of the Vaccine Information Center is unmoved. When I asked if vaccines have done more good than harm, she said the matter is "complex."
Lawyer McDowell claims his lawsuits made the vaccine safer. "I'm doing a service for the public," he says.
Nonsense, says Dr. Offit. Lawyers didn't make the vaccines better: "There was always an interest in trying to make that vaccine safer, but the science had to catch up to that." He added, "There's a certain profiteering that comes with fear."
Lawyers, the media, and interest groups do profit from spreading fear. I call it the Fear Industrial Complex.
McDowell is now debating whether to file new lawsuits claiming that vaccines cause autism. I said to him, "You scare people and make money off it!" After a pause, he replied, "True."
In future columns I'll discuss other ways the Fear Industrial Complex makes money by scaring people stiff.