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In a teaser video published on Facebook by a controversial anti-vaccination organization, Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood claimed that “vaccines can and do cause autism.” The video goes on to say that “Nico’s Story” will be released on Tuesday.
The preview is part of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, an anti-vaccination documentary that is currently touring the country doing video interviews with people claiming to have been negatively affected by vaccinations. LaHood’s interview appears to be the most high-profile one so far.
In a phone interview with the Rivard Report on Monday afternoon, LaHood said he heard the makers of the anti-vaccine documentary “Vaxxed” were holding a screening in San Antonio. He attended the event. There, he told the filmmakers about the “change” in his son Michael’s behavior after getting his 18-month vaccinations.
“He was vaccinated from day 1,” LaHood said. “After he got his 18-month shots, he was distant and wouldn’t make eye contact. He was put on the (autism) spectrum.”
Impressed with the documentary, he held a private screening for family and friends. As a public figure, Lahood said he has an obligation to use his voice to advocate for an issue that is important to him.
“I’m an advocate in four ways,” he said. “I’m a daddy to an autistic child. I want to let doctors who disagree with vaccines to keep their medical licenses. I want parents to be able to choose whether or not to vaccine their children, and I want vaccines to undergo the same testing as other drugs by the pharmaceutical companies because right now they’re not.”
Stephanie Lutz, executive director of the Bexar County Health Collaborative, told the Rivard Report on Monday that the theory about a link between autism and vaccinations, which has been largely debunked by several studies and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is something the health community has been faced with time and time again.
“We need to be upfront with people and be able to fight the misconceptions about vaccines,” Lutz said. “It’s unfortunate that we have conflicting viewpoints out there and our job at the Health Collaborative is to educate families on vaccines so that they can make the choice that is right for them.”
Vaccines help prevent diseases, she said, but “at the end of the day, whether in public office or not, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What matters is education and choice.”
Dr. Anil Mangla, assistant director for communicable diseases at San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District, had stronger words in response to LaHood’s claim.
“This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s absurd and completely flawed. This is all based on a faulty 1998 study that has since been proven untrue,” Mangla said in a phone interview. “Someone should do their homework and read the literature.”
Each study done on vaccines since has proven their effectiveness, he said, pointing to the eradication of diseases like smallpox and polio in the western world. “The only reason anyone gets those diseases here is due to international travel.”
To fight the perception put forward by anti-vaccinators, Mangla said a public panel discussion is needed that includes regional health experts, scientific researchers, and so-called “anti-vaxxers” such as LaHood.
“We need to clear this up as soon as possible,” Mangla said. “I don’t want to turn on CNN and read a headline about San Antonio that you saw about Los Angeles last year. That’s why we are trying to raise the vaccination rate.”
The vaccination rate in some affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles was remarkably low in 2015 and 2014, rivaling the vaccination rates of South Sudan. There were outbreaks of whooping cough and measles.
LaHood is open to holding a panel as Dr. Mangla suggests, but it needs to be fair.
“This should be open to people on both sides of this issue,” he said.
This story has been updated with information gathered from an interview with LaHood.