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Here’s something Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood and I have in common: Neither one of us is the person you should consult for medical advice for your children. We’re both lawyers. We know about legal matters. But the right sources of information for your family’s medical decisions are the medical experts: doctors, scientists and public health officials.
And so, this is where LaHood and I diverge: He doesn’t appear to realize that he is completely unqualified to claim that vaccines cause autism, as he did in a recent video.
LaHood has a child with autism. He says his child changed right after getting his 18-month vaccination. Don’t tell him, he said, that his child was born with autism.
That’s a challenging situation for any family. I sympathize with LaHood’s search for answers. But 18 months is a typical early age for signs of autism to first be detected in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. It’s one reason that some experts recommend screening children for autism at 18-24 months. Surely LaHood has been told this by doctors; is he looking only for the answers he wants to hear? Is that how he would approach evidence in a criminal case?
In the very short video, a promotion for the scurrilous anti-vaccine movie “Vaxxed,” LaHood says outright that vaccines cause autism. You might note, if you see it, that he offers not a shred of evidence – because there isn’t one – to back up his alarming claim. Neither is there a single expert or organization — not the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Medical Association – nor a single published researcher in the field that supports his claim.
That’s another area where he and I differ: I consult highly respected medical experts on my board of directors, as well as a medical advisory council and a scientific advisory council, before making public statements on medical subjects. My consistent advice is to ask your doctor about any concerns about vaccine safety.
Of course, LaHood isn’t the first to make unsubstantiated accusations about vaccines, acting as an expert in matters that are completely outside his area of expertise. Individual parents do so, as well as celebrities. But LaHood should be feeling an extra mantle of responsibility. He is an elected official with an obligation to the public he serves.
Let’s hope he never tries to prosecute a resident of his county with such an utter lack of evidence.
In an interview Monday, LaHood appeared to acknowledge his lack of expertise. “My opinions are just my opinions as a daddy,” he said. But he used his title and his literal public office in the video. He made a very big point of showing that he was not just a daddy.
He changed his tune later, saying in a Facebook rant, “I have done my own research.” I’d look forward to seeing that research in a well-regarded, peer-reviewed journal.
Interestingly, in his Facebook post, LaHood seems to back away from the certainty he showed in the mini-video. Suddenly, his no-holds-barred statement was being framed as his “very personal opinion” that “there may be a link between autism and vaccines.” Perhaps the countless medical and public health professionals refuting his claims with a mountain of scientific research behind them had caused him to, in fact, question his position? Let’s hope so.
But when LaHood declared disproven claims to the public, he risked frightening parents away from vaccinating their children against potentially life-threatening diseases – parents who trust him, respect him as a person who holds a position of authority in his community. Regardless of the many medical and public health experts who refuted his statements afterward, that floodgate has been opened.
This piece originally appeared in TribTalk, a digital forum for dialogue and debate about the day’s news. TribTalk is a product of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organizationthat informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Top image: Photo courtesy of Bexar County website/Cooper Neill.