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ABC Show Will Go on, Over Protest by Doctors
New York Times
By EDWARD WYATT
Published: January 29, 2008
ABC said on Monday it would include a disclaimer about the plot line of the debut episode of the drama “Eli Stone,” which links childhood vaccines to autism, and direct viewers to a government Web site that discredits such a link.
ABC’s decision follows a call by the American Academy of Pediatrics for ABC to cancel the opening episode of “Eli Stone,” which is scheduled to be broadcast at 10 p.m. Thursday.
In a letter to ABC executives on Friday, Dr. Renee R. Jenkins, the president of the pediatrics academy, warned that the episode “could lead to a tragic decline in immunization rates.” The first episode portrays a lawyer who wins a case against a drug company on behalf of a mother who believes that a preservative in a vaccine caused her child’s autism.
The link between a vaccine preservative called thimerosal and autism has been debated for much of the last decade, but many scientific studies have failed to show any causal link between the two.
The letter from the pediatrics group followed an article in The New York Times last week highlighting the episode. Greg Berlanti, a co-creator and executive producer of the series, said that executives at neither ABC nor its ABC Studios production unit had any qualms about the episode, which he said he believed showed both sides of the argument.
Most public health organizations believe there is only one side, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization are among the organizations that have studied and rejected possible links between autism and the preservative in vaccines.
“Many people trust the health information presented on fictional television shows, which influences their decisions about health care,” Dr. Jenkins wrote. Her letter said that beginning in 1998 in Britain, “erroneous reports linking the measles vaccine to autism prompted a decline in vaccination and the worst outbreak of measles in two decades, including the deaths of several children.”
ABC will present a written notice and voice-over saying: “The following story is fictional and does not portray any actual persons, companies, products or events.” A second card will direct viewers to the Center for Disease Control’s autism Web site, http://www.cdc.gov/autism.