“Embargoes… can be bad for the public health.”

Let’s start the week with some embargo issues!  How’s that for fun?

On the NPR Shots blog, David Schultz writes, “What We Wanted To Tell You About Mumps But Couldn’t.”   He begins:

Last week, we wrote about an outbreak of mumps within several Orthodox Jewish communities in and around New York City.

We told you how the outbreak spread so rapidly in 2009 that public health officials tried something that hadn’t been done before. Doctors gave uninfected children who’d already been immunized a third booster shot of the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. Two doses is the usual regimen.

After reading our post about the outbreak, you might have wondered if it worked. And maybe you even asked if you or your kids should get the extra shot.

We would have loved to answer those questions for you when we wrote our first story. (See the sidebar for the answers now.) But we couldn’t tell you what we knew because the information was under wraps.

Here’s what happened.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who fought the outbreak in New York wrote about it in three different papers published at different times in three different journals.

Two of the papers came out last week. The third one — the one that included information on whether the broader public should get an extra booster dose of MMR — wasn’t published until this morning.

Until now, every detail in that paper — even its existence — was under an embargo.

Schultz asked the journal Pediatrics, which was preparing to publish one of the three papers, to lift its embargo but they refused.  Read his entire post for the full account.

And if you don’t get enough there, go over to Ivan Oransky’s post on the Embargo Watch blog, “A shot in the embargo: In which I politely call bullshit on the journal Pediatrics.” He concludes:

Nonsense. If this was the first time Pediatrics had stubbornly refused to lift an embargo and — heaven forbid — give up some of that limelight, I’d say, alright, we all screw up. But it’s not. There was this case involving autism in 2009, and this one involving circumcision earlier this year. (In fairness, I’ll note a case in which they did the right thing last year.)

I can only hope that NPR’s spotlight — and mine — will make the journal think twice next time a reporter makes a request in the interest of public health.

And in case anyone’s wondering, I love pediatricians. My dad was was one. But he didn’t put up with doublespeak from people in his profession, and I’m not going to either.

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