Offit (Vaccinology and Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, 2008, etc.) takes aim at the anti-vaccine movement in America and scores a bull’s-eye.
If only people would listen. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of irrational behavior fueled by hostility toward doctors, researchers, drug companies and government. The issue comes down to coincidence vs. causality. A baby is vaccinated and thereafter develops seizures, brain damage, autism or other disorders. So powerful is the need to find a cause that vaccines become the target and no amount of clinical or epidemiological evidence will change opinions. Abetting belief are the activists and celebrities who champion the cause on the nightly news or on their own inflammatory blogs. What Offit offers in response is a well-documented history dating back to the first vaccine for smallpox. That, too, occasioned widespread attack once vaccination was made compulsory, with protesters even claiming that children would develop little cows at the inoculation site (because the vaccine is based on the cowpox virus. The author traces recent anti-vaccine activism in America to the 1982 documentary DPT: Vaccination Roulette, which inveighed against the pertussis part of the DPT regimen (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus). In spite of exonerating evidence, negative publicity and lawsuits drove drug companies out of the vaccine business and led to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. But the battle was renewed with the association between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine or its mercury component. Now that vaccine is mercury-free, and countless studies have discounted any association, but the protests mount, with many states allowing parents to opt out of vaccine programs. The danger is that with too many kids unvaccinated, herd immunity is lost and epidemics become a reality. Offit rightly points out that it would be a mistake to go this route to demonstrate why vaccines are essential; what we need is a restoration of trust. He suggests that this could happen if concerned parents and public health workers who have seen the devastation wrought by childhood disease speak out.
A much-needed book with solid evidence—deserves all the publicity it can get.