Ignoring HHS Secretary Sebelius’ Censorship Request, HDNet Covers Vaccine-Autism Link 

August 25, 2011
Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law & Advocacy

Rebecca Estepp, Media Director

New York, NY – The Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA) applauds HDNet’s World Report and its Emmy-award winning journalist Greg Dobbs for exceptional reporting in “Vaccines and Autism: Mixed Signals” which aired August 23.  This World Report, available for download through the iTunes store provides in-depth, unbiased coverage on cases of autism in the federal government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.  No government official agreed to speak on camera although Dobbs requested interviews from Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

HDNet tells the story behind “Unanswered Questions From the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury,” a peer-reviewed article that appeared in the Pace Environmental Law Review in May 2011. The article, authored by four members of EBCALA’s board, suggests that the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has been compensating autism as a vaccine injury for more than 20 years, while formally denying this reality.

HDNet highlights that HHS Secretary Sebelius requested censorship in the media on vaccine safety.  Sebelius stated in a Reader’s Digest interview that she asked the media to not cover those individuals critical of vaccine safety. Specifically, in March, 2010, Sebelius told interviewer Arthur Allen,

“There are groups out there that insist that vaccines are responsible for a variety of problems despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. We have reached out to media outlets to try to get them to not give the views of these people equal weight in their reporting to what science has shown and continues to show about the safety of vaccines.”

When Dobbs inquired if Sebelius had made this request, HHS responded in writing that “No one here can remember or determine that this quote is factual.”

EBCALA calls for a response from government and media:

  1. Secretary Sebelius should disavow her censorship request.  We call on Secretary Sebelius to publicly disavow her on-the-record request to the media in Readers’ Digest to silence vaccine safety advocates and critics.  President Obama has asserted that he supports transparency and open government; Secretary Sebelius’ request for media censorship was the antithesis. We await the Secretary’s written response.
  2. The media should report on censorship in the vaccine safety debate.  EBCALA calls on the media to examine the issue of censorship, including Secretary Sebelius’ request.  Parents on playgrounds everywhere are talking about vaccine safety.  It is the role of the media to report on these concerns, not dismiss or ignore them at the government’s request.

EBCALA wholeheartedly agrees with President Obama that openness in government “means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know.” We look forward to government and media reaffirmation of this principle in the vaccine safety debate.