What are Del Bigtree and his
The KHN reporter apparently thought the views of Bigtree, who lives in California, on Texas public health policy were of sufficient gravitas to ring him up and get his opinion. Why? Because Bigtree is a public health expert? No. He's a pediatrician or infectious disease doctor? No. He's a TV producer. Best I can tell, he's in the story because some reporters at KHN still believe it's
The KHN story citing Bigtree's views reported on public health officials' growing concern over parents choosing to opt out of vaccinations for their children. (The news report was also published in the
Fortunately, Georgia is now 16 and cancer-free. The family's experience has made Georgia's mom, Courtney, a strong advocate for vaccination, a passion she shares with Jinny Suh, the mother of a 4-year-old. Suh and other parents are pushing legislators to change state law so that individual public school exemption rates are published. Under current law, individual private and charter schools must make exemption rates public but public schools report this information by district only. At least two bills were introduced during the past legislative session to require individual schools to report their immunization rates, but neither passed. Other states do collect and publish this information. (See, e.g.,
The private school statistics cited in the story are revealing: At Austin Waldorf School (
According to the story, parents are increasingly taking advantage of the state's "conscientious exemption" to school immunization requirements, which have soared to 44,716 this year, from just 2,314 in 2003. (The story incorrectly states that Texas is one of 18 states allowing non-medical exemptions. Actually,
While the state's overall immunization rate is high (98%), health officials worry about pockets of unimmunized children:
"'If one of those kids is incubating an infectious disease and the other kids aren't vaccinated, then it's going to spread like wildfire,' said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
"Troisi explains that for a disease like measles, you want 'herd immunity' to be at 95 percent to prevent an outbreak. If healthy children aren't receiving vaccines, they are putting children who are too young to receive the vaccine and people with compromised immune systems at a much greater risk of infection."
Why aren't parents protecting their children, and others, through immunization?
"Many of the parents opting out of the immunizations, which are widely recommended by doctors, say they fear a link between the vaccines and health problems such as autism. But studies that they cite have been widely debunked by public health officials."
The story also quoted the director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, a political action committee formed to oppose legislation repealing the state's non-medical exemptions from school immunization requirements. Her comments reflect the usual
Unfortunately, the reporter was not content to leave it at that:
"Others are even more adamant in their opposition. 'That's a slippery slope,' said Del Bigtree, one of the producers of 'Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe,' a 2016 film drawing a link between autism and vaccines and alleging the federal scientists have covered up the research. It was directed by Andrew Wakefield — the former British gastroenterologist now living in Texas who authored a discredited research paper linking vaccines to autism in 1998. Bigtree, who stopped vaccinating his children, said he believes that any efforts to disclose immunization rates in schools are motivated by fear."
Having just stated that "link between the vaccines and health problems such as autism" has been "widely debunked by public health officials," why present the views of Del Bigtree, who made what was widely disparaged as a propaganda film promoting that very link? Not only that, but VAXXED purports to "explain" why parents shouldn't believe a word these public health officials say: There's a government cover-up! No mention is made of the fact that this "cover-up" was
It hardly does the
I will give Bigtree credit where credit is due: he's right that efforts to disclose immunization rates are motivated by fear, but, to the extent he implies that this fear is unreasonable, he's dead wrong. Parents have
So, back to our question. Why is Bigtree in this story? The only reason I can think of is to provide the sort of false balance we hoped might have disappeared after
"Mnookin's contention that the controversy would not have achieved staying power without uncritical or at times blatantly irresponsible reporting by numerous media outlets - including NBC, the Huffington Post, Rolling Stone and The Washington Post - is persuasive. Too often, he writes, journalists display "a willingness to parrot quack claims under the guise of reporting on citizen concerns."
Unforunately, this is not the first time KHN has given an uncritical platform to an anti-vaccine propagandist for "balance." Just last year, in
As I said in an SfSBM post admonishing KHN for its uncritical reference to Fisher's views,
"In announcing the creation of KHN, Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO
Like Fisher and the NVIC, neither Bigtree nor Wakefield have anything to contribute to "informed debate and good public policy" on immunization. Bigtree's views on Texas immunization policy are irrelevant and he shouldn't have been interviewed for or quoted in this story.