Dr. Paul Offit: 'Journalism Jail' For False Equivalence In Medical Reporting

Mar 29 2014, 7:32pm CDT | by

DENVER, CO – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia chief of infectious diseases, pediatrician, vaccine developer and author, Dr. Paul W. Offit, called on broadcast and print reporters to avoid the “he-said, she-said reporting” that perpetuates false controversies in science and medicine.

Offit’s comments came today in his keynote address at Health Journalism 2014, this year’s annual meeting of the Association for Health Care Journalists.

In his discussion of some continued–and faulty–reporting on an association between childhood vaccines and the incidence of autism, Offit said, “It’s easy to scare people. It’s harder to un-scare them.” His view is that vaccination rates will only increase because of outbreaks of otherwise preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis (whooping cough).

Who’s an “expert?”

Offit posed the question to journalists of what criteria establishes someone as an expert worthy of serving as a valid source or commenter on issues of health. On one hand, reporters and producers should held accountable for soliciting celebrities lacking qualifications in science and medicine whose unqualified opinions will be broadcast to millions or read by hundreds of thousands.

For example, Offit asked rhetorically why he has had to comment on what people like Donald Trump or Kristin Cavaliari think about autism and vaccines.

But he notes that his authority as a highly-trained and experienced professional should not be the only consideration.

“They don’t know the data,” said Offit. “What I say, what others say doesn’t matter. Where is the data?”

Offit added that he’s troubled by so-called journalistic “balance” when the contentions of only one side is supported by science. He called instead for “perspective” in reporting.

For example, he fully acknowledges that vaccines given to tens of millions of people do indeed cause side effects, and even fatalities, but that these events are extremely rare. But Offit noted that these side effects have absolutely nothing to do with causes invoked by many antivaccination activists.

Offit’s advice to journalists who have deadline pressures that preclude them from digging deeply into the medical literature is not to do the story at all.

Penalty box for poor health care reporting

In the Q&A that followed the talk, managing editor of The Daily Briefing and Forbes contributor, Dan Diamond, asked Offit if journalists write stories about “debate” on vaccines– and people die from not getting vaccinated–are we party to murder.

Offit responded with the idea that we should have “journalism jail” for such individuals.

Although that kicker brought some laughter among the audience, Offit later added more solemnly, “You work in a hospital and you watch children die from preventable disease–it makes you passionate.”

Vaccine costs and access/>/>

Award-winning, New York Times reporter, Elisabeth Rosenthal, asked Offit about an issue that should certainly be discussed with regard to vaccines: Shouldn’t we be reporting more on their costs, particularly the human papillomavirus vaccines, as a factor in access to this preventive medicine and suboptimal vaccination rates?

In this case, such discussion centers around whether a vaccine or drug manufacturer should be able to charge an appropriate price for the costs of developing and marketing a product that needs only to be given once per patient or, at most, a few times. In terms of profit margins, Offit called vaccines the “stepsister” of the pharmaceutical industry.

Profitability of vaccines is, however, open to much discussion. Offit himself is best known for his work in the 1980s that led to the development of a rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq®, licensed to Merck in 1992 by CHOP and The Wistar Institute. In 2008, CHOP sold their worldwide rights to royalties from the vaccine for $182 million. Offit’s personal or laboratory share has never been disclosed publicly but typical intellectual property agreements in academic research allow for the inventors to share in up to 25% of institutional income.

Regardless, vaccine costs are less than the collective costs–financially and in terms of human suffering–of treating a disease they’re intended to prevent (or reduce severity if still contracted).

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases noted in 2009 that over half a million infants and young children worldwide were dying of rotavirus gastroenteritis each year. In the U.S., prior to the introduction of rotatvirus vaccines, rotavirus caused more than 400,000 physician visits, more than 200,000 emergency department visits, 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations, 20 to 70 childhood deaths, and direct and indirect costs in excess of $1 billion.

The innovation and risks to develop a product that prevents such negative impact is certainly deserving of an appropriate return on investment, but access to such vaccines remains an issue that must be addressed.

AHCJ member discussion from the remainder of Offit’s talk can be viewed by searching the #AHCJ14 Twitter hashtag beginning around 2:45 pm EDT/12:45 pm MDT.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

OPEC daily basket price closes over three dollars lower
Vienna, Nov 28 (IANS/WAM) The basket of 12 crude oils of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) closed at $70.80 a barrel Thursday, compared to $73.70 Wednesday, the OPEC Secretariat said.
 
 
Britons seek fewer work hours as longer hours injurious to health
London, Nov 28 (IANS) With recent research showing that long working hours can make us ill and ineffective, one in 10 Britons would like to work fewer hours, says a new Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey.
 
 
Iranian woman dances without hijab defying country's laws
Tehran, Nov 28 (IANS) An Iranian woman has defied the country's ultra-restrictive laws by dancing publicly without her hijab (veil), and what is more, it was filmed and posted on social media.
 
 
17th century Polish 'vampire' graves found
London, Nov 28 (IANS) Potential "vampires" in 17th-18th century Poland were buried with rocks and sickles across their bodies to ward off evil, scientists have discovered.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Apple Black Friday Sale Released
The Apple Black Friday 2014 Sale has launched online at the Apple Store. Apple has announced a huge charity promotion to fight AIDS for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Apple will donate a portion of the sales the company...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
A look at Black Friday video game deals
All major retailers will be getting in the video game Black Friday spirit. PS4 and XBox One will certainly be two consoles that should garner huge sales but actual games should do good as well. One thing that is for...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
 
Comics looking for event filled Black Friday
While video games and other electronic gadgets look to be the big draw on deals during Black Friday, comic book readers and fans will be able to find their fair share of deals as well. It has been announced that two...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
 
Anna Kendrick positive after nude photo leak
Anna Kendrick is looking at the positives following the recent hacking of her nude photos. The 'Pitch Perfect' star - whose naked pictures were posted online by hackers earlier this year alongside other stars like...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Benedict Cumberbatch hates selfies
Benedict Cumberbatch hates selfies. The 'Imitation Game' actor - who recently announced his engagement to Sophie Hunter - won't be personally taking any photos of him and his bride on their wedding day and instead would...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
James Franco filmed threesome with Zachary Quinto
James Franco and Zachary Quinto filmed a threesome for their new film 'Michael'. The actors took part in the sexy scene alongside the former 'Desperate Housewives' star Charlie Carver for the upcoming drama, according...
Read more on Movie Balla
 
UN condemns attack on British embassy vehicle
United Nations, Nov 28 (IANS) The UN Security Council (UNSC) has condemned the attack on a British embassy vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan. "The members of the UNSC expressed their deep sympathy and condolences to the...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Not all mosquitoes can transmit malaria
New York, Nov 28 (IANS) A genetic study has revealed that certain species of mosquitoes have evolved to better transmit malaria than even some of their close cousins. The study may advance understanding about the...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Rio judge ends Olympic golf course impasse
Rio de Janeiro, Nov 28 (IANS) A Rio de Janeiro judge has rejected a request by public prosecutors to suspend an environmental permit for work on the 2016 Olympic golf course. Judge Eduardo Antonio Klausner said there...
Read more on Sport Balla