Those of you have read this blog for some time probably know that I have contacted the local publication MN Parent before due to what I consider its lax fact-checking and tendency to promote anti-vaccine misinformation. I don't necessarily think this is a line of reasoning that the publishers or even the editor follow, but it appears in the pages of this big-circulation free publication from time to time. When I initially complained about MN Parent's profile of an anti-vaccine mother, in which none of her false assertions were fact-checked or even challenged, I initially received a very gracious response from the editor. However, when the next issue was published, the editorial response to my complaint (and the complaints of others) was to say that they don't fact-check parent quotes and shouldn't be expected to do so. They even went on to challenge CDC information about which state has the most cases of autism (the woman profiled claimed it was Minnesota).
While disappointing, I felt good about speaking up--and even better about the other parents who had apparently written in to complain.
Fast forward to last month. I picked up the November edition of Minnesota Parent and flipped to "20 Questions to Ask When You're Pregnant," written by "personality psychologist" Heidi Smith Luedtke. Number five was a straightforward question: "Should I get immunized?" Below is Luedtke's complete response in the article:
Your physician may recommend shots for the flu, hepatitis b, and tetanus (sic), especially if you're at risk. Live-virus vaccines and those for measles, mumps, and varicella (chicken pox) may be harmful during pregnancy. Speak up to make sure you're safe.
This is all sorts of wrong. First, it doesn't answer the question. Second, I think by "tetanus" the writer means the Tdap, which the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) just recommended for all pregnant women, due to the increasing outbreaks of pertussis, a disease that is particularly devastating to infants.
But what is most interesting--and wrong--here is perhaps a bit subtle to those not involved in trying to increase immunization rates. Luedtke utilizes a scare tactic not uncommon among anti-vaccine activists: Trying to scare you off vaccines by bringing up totally irrelevant information.
Example: She brings up what I assume is the MMR vaccine (she says "measles, mumps" but leaves off the rubella component of the MMR vaccine, which is ironically the most devastating disease for a pregnant woman and her fetus) and the varicella vaccine. These are two vaccines that are NEVER offered to a pregnant woman. Never.
Here's what would happen. If you didn't know if you had been immunized for MMR, you would have a titers drawn to see if you were immune to rubella (I did this when pregnant). This would reveal your level of immunity. If you were not protected for rubella, your doctor would wait until you had given birth before immunization. As far as varicella goes, a pregnant woman would never be offered this vaccine either.
I'm not sure where the author is going with her comment about the Hep B vaccines--if you were a prostitute or drug user, your doctor might encourage you to get vaccinated, but the average pregnant woman would not need to worry about this.
It's pretty easy to locate the CDC's recommendations for vaccines during pregnancy. It would have been nice if the author of this piece--or better yet, her editor--had simply consulted this document instead of writing an error-ridden collection of nonsense designed to confuse a pregnant woman, at best, or scare her off vaccines, at worst.
As lagniappe, Luedtke directs pregnant women to "speak up to make sure you're safe." I don't know if Luedtke is actually opposed to vaccination, but the image she creates is of a vaccine-mad doctor coming at her with a syringe full of MMR vaccine. If it were me in that doctor's office, though, I'd speak up to make sure both of us--my baby and me--were safe by asking for my flu vaccine and Tdap.
Please speak up when you see members of the media mispeaking on vaccines. Most of the time, these are innocent mistakes (with potentially dangerous consequences) and the editors are glad to have them pointed out. The more often parents hold members of the media to a basic standard of accuracy, the better reporting we will get.