The ASTHO Take: A Week in Public Health News (Sept. 18)

September 18, 2015|3:19 p.m.| Virgie Townsend

Must-read news for leaders in public health.

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Vaccine Myth Rears Ugly Head at Republican Debate; AAP and ASTHO Alum to the Rescue

It’s been 17 years since The Lancet published a fraudulent paper that said the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine can cause autism, and five years since it retracted the paper after follow-up studies refuted its theories and lead researcher Andrew Wakefield was found to have falsified data and acted unethically. But despite being widely discredited, Wakefield’s myth lives on in our public discourse.

It made an appearance at Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate. Frontrunner Donald Trump said: "You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump—I mean, it looks just like it is meant for a horse, not for a child, and we had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2 years old, beautiful child went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."

Physicians Ben Carson and Rand Paul disagreed with Trump’s autism assertion, but each took a different tact.

“We have extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccination, but it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time,” said Carson.

Paul argued that vaccine are safe, but parental choice is also an important consideration. “One of the greatest medical discoveries of all time were vaccines,” Paul said. “I’m for vaccines, but I’m also for freedom. Even if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to be able to spread my vaccines out a little bit, at the very least.”

Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a statement authored by AAP Executive Director and ASTHO alumna Karen Remley regarding the autism myth. “Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. It is dangerous to public health to suggest otherwise,” Remley wrote.

To learn how to communicate effectively with parents about the importance and safety of vaccines, see ASTHO’s Immunization web page.

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Obama Nominates FDA Deputy as Commissioner

President Obama has selected Robert Califf, the FDA’s deputy commissioner, as the agency’s next commissioner. Califf is a cardiologist and former researcher at Duke University who President George W. Bush previously considered to lead the FDA. If the Senate confirms Califf, he will be responsible for guiding the FDA as it implements tobacco regulations and the Food Safety Modernization Act.

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Air Pollution Kills 3.3 Million Worldwide Annually, is Projected to Rise to 6.6 Million by 2050

A new study from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry found that more than 3 million people die every year from exposure to air pollution, even exceeding the total deaths from malaria and HIV. The United States ranks seventh for most pollution-related fatalities with an estimated 54,905 deaths in 2010, while China has the most deaths at 1.4 million.

Fuels for cooking and heating are the largest source of pollution globally, but pollution from agriculture is the top source in the United States. At its current rate, the study projects that pollution could kill more than 6 million people annually by 2050. For more information on environmental health, see ASTHO’s Environmental Health in All Policies resources.

To take you out for the weekend, check out this flashback to 80s-cartoon superhero Captain Planet confronting the evil Captain Pollution.


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