Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

I remember the DTP scare.  Every news magazine in the early 80s did a segment on how the pertussis part of the combination vaccine, although still safer than the disease, caused seizures and possibly brain damage.  England switched to pertussis-free DT vaccine (and faced a wave of whooping cough cases), and the pertussis vaccine was eventually reformulated.  Infectious disease expert Dr. Paul Offit starts Deadly Choices with this scare.  A scare that laid the foundation for the current anti-vaccine movement, and one that wasn't supported by the evidence.  There was no link between the pertussis vaccine and seizures once epidemiologists analyzed the data, but not until a spate of lawsuits drove most vaccine manufacturers out of the market and a combination of Congressional hearings and additional news stories planted doubts in the minds of parents.

Dr. Offit spends about half of his book discussing this false scare and the anti-vaccination groups it spawned.  An undercurrent of fear, a lack of familiarity with what were once common diseases, and the presence of a few well-organized groups meant that when Andrew Wakefield's falsified study claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, people were ready to believe.  Most of the MMR discussion is familiar, but it bears repeating.  Multiple studies have shown that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and while no vaccine is 100% safe it is several orders of magnitude safer than any of the diseases it prevents.

Offit's style is an odd combination of ranting and plodding (he's a doctor, not a writer), but his passion comes through.  He also does a good job of explaining how low vaccination rates hurt the population in general.  Unfortunately, I suspect that his audience consists entirely of those who trust in science, not the anti-vaccine crowd who need to learn the truth.

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