NBC's Snyderman: Vaccine-Autism Link 'Not Controversial'

     Rarely does a broadcast journalist passionately defend science and business. But NBC’s chief medical editor Nancy Snyderman did just that on the network’s “Today” show Oct. 30.


     Snyderman profiled Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is a vocal proponent of vaccines – having created a vaccine for the rotavirus – and does not believe they cause autism in children.


     The alleged link between vaccines and autism is disputed, and has caused some confusion in the broadcast media. In June 2007, the CBS “Evening News” reported a link between autism and thimerosal – a preservative used in vaccines. But in January 2008, the “Evening News” reversed that position and reported research showing “no link.”


     Snyderman was more forceful when she gave her “two cents,” telling “Today” host Matt Lauer it is “not controversial. I mean, I really mean that. The science is the science. We’re going to start to see outbreaks of polio and measles in this country if we don’t start talking about the real problem. It’s not controversial.”


     Criticizing the emotion-based approach to the issue, Snyderman said the cause of autism research has “been hijacked, I think, by a lot of the celebrity aspect of this.” Former Playboy model and television personality Jenny McCarthy has become the face of the anti-vaccine movement. Her son has autism.


     Snyderman said parents who are afraid vaccines will cause autism aren’t educated on the issue. She said 16 studies have shown “no causal association” between vaccines and autism, and that the studies “carry weight in the scientific industry. I think they haven't been very well explained” to parents.


     She said doctors like Offit who deny a link are subjected to harassment, including death threats and “physical ambush.” Offit has received threatening phone calls directed toward his children and Snyderman said she and other reporters around the country have been physically ambushed.


     The report did mention Offit’s potential conflict of interest. “Dr. Offit understands some of the criticism leveled at him,” Snyderman said. “Merck, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures some vaccines, endows his professorship at Children's Hospital. And he developed RotaTeq, a vaccine that is now part of the CDC’s recommended schedule for children.”


     “You have invented a vaccine, made millions of dollars, therefore, you have a vested interest in making sure that nothing hurts vaccines getting to the marketplace,” Snyderman said in her interview with Offit.


     “No, I have a vested interest in making sure that nothing hurts children,” he responded. “That, that's why I do what I do. And, in fact, I would argue that no one cared more about the safety of our vaccine than me.”