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Responses to Media Stories

Response to Peter Jennings | World News Tonight
[October 05, 1998]

Peter Jennings
World News Tonight with Peter Jennings
47 West 66th St., 2nd Floor New York, NY 10023

Dear Mr. Jennings:

As a regular viewer of your 6:30pm (Eastern time) World News Tonight, and as a member of the Board of Hasbro Children's Foundation who participated in honoring you at a dinner in New York several years ago, I hope this letter may reach your desk and receive your attention. I am a Duke pediatrician with 40 years experience in research, development and policy regarding vaccines. Twice in the past months (most recently on Friday evening 25 September) you have presented stories regarding vaccines and utilized "authorities" who are not at all qualified. The first episode regarded the hypothesis that infant immunization provoked juvenile diabetes mellitus. The "expert" who appeared on your program was Dr. Bart Classen, an immunologist from Baltimore, Maryland who heads his own private organization. His theories are not new and have been reviewed at least three times in the past year by expert groups including diabetologists, immunologists, vaccinologists, geneticists, epidemiologists and biostatisticians all of whom have agreed unanimously that Dr. Classen has totally misinterpreted data that he has extracted from studies in Finland and elsewhere, and has built a hypothesis for which there is absolutely no evidence. These reviews have been sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Vaccine Safety, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and the Vaccine Initiative of the Infectious Diseases Society of American and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

The second individual who has appeared on both these programs is Mrs. Barbara Loe Fisher who is show with a subtitle "National Vaccine Information Center." I am confident that 99% of your television audience who view her with such a heading assume that this is some authoritative federal agency. Indeed, she represents a small group of unfortunate parents who feel that their children have been damaged by vaccines and who have conducted over a period of 20 years campaigns against many of the aspects of infant and child immunization. With no more explanation of who she is and whom she represents, your viewers must assume that the National Vaccine Information Center is a medical agency perhaps associated with the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control or some other scientific establishment.

Certainly, you have every right to select those individuals to comment on medical information whom you judge to be worthy and reliable. However, I cannot understand how either of these two individuals could possibly qualify in that respect. It should be made quite clear that Dr. Classen's hypotheses are solely that, not proven or established facts, and that Barbara Loe Fisher is an advocate for a particular position regarding vaccines and childhood immunizations, but not in any way an immunization authority.

In a more recent presentation on Friday evening 25 September, Mr. John McKenzie presented information about the new conjugate pneumococcal vaccine and the successful results of a recent trial in California. Once again Mrs. Fisher was the "expert" commentator who felt that "this disease does not qualify" and is not a life threatening or epidemic problem. Dr. Classen again commented on diabetes mellitus and added asthma as another consequence of infant immunization. Totally absent from the story was the serious problem of antibiotic resistance with more than 30% of pneumococci isolated from patients with blood stream infection, meningitis or pneumonia resistant not only to penicillin but to most of the other commonly used antibiotics, so the only effective antibiotic remains Vancomycin, one which should be reserved ideally for unique situations. The prevention of pneumococcal disease by a successful vaccine would be an enormous asset in combating this problem of antibiotic resistance, let alone its primary value in preventing much of the life threatening illness which is most common in young infants and the aged population.

In order to present a logical case to you, I have composed a letter that is probably too lengthy but I hope you will take the time to read it and would be willing to discuss these matters further if you have any disagreement. Currently I chair with Dr. Louis Sullivan, former secretary of HHS, a program called the Vaccine Initiative. It has been established precisely to provide to parents, health workers, legislators and the media accurate, reliable information about vaccines, their benefits and risks, and the programs for their utilization in this county.

As a recognized authority in the field of infectious diseases and particularly of vaccines, I cannot help but wonder who in your organization has singled out Mrs. Fisher and Dr. Classen as appropriate individuals to comment on your vaccine stories. I assure you that you and thereby your audience are badly misled by their comments. I can also assure you that the Vaccine Initiative would be willing to make expert authorities available to you on short notice anytime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if you seek evaluation of news and stories relating to vaccines and immunizations.

With apologies again for the length of this letter, but in hopes that it will reach you and provide you a readily available source of knowledgeable consultation.

Yours Sincerely,
Samuel L. Katz, MD, D, Sc
Vaccine Inititative

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