Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All
Paul Offit’s new book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, is reviewed by Kristen Audet, a Population Health Service Fellow with a two year placement at Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative
Paul Offit opens Deadly Choices with the assertion that Americans are engaged in a war. Indeed, Offit writes, “There’s a war going on out there–a quiet, deadly war.” But Offit’s work somewhat disproves this statement: the war is not quiet. Granted, one can choose to ignore the war, but for those with children, those who work in health care, and those who work in education, the war cannot be avoided and it should not be ignored. Daily, those individuals encounter The Issue: childhood vaccinations. Throughout his book, Offit demonstrates to his readers his subtitle: how the anti-vaccine movement threatens us all.
Offit scientifically disproves the “science” behind the anti-vaccine movement. For Offit to do this is not difficult because for the most part, the scientific case had already been well made. Offit presents arguments put forth by the anti-vaccine movement and then demonstrates how all too often they are clearly disproven not only by scientific study, but through the legal process: the claims have not held up in court. Through his considerations of the various fronts of this “war,” Offit leaves his readers with some major lessons:
1. Don’t believe everything you read. This is something most of us learned from our parents early on, but it is especially pertinent in the vaccination debate. There is a lot of bad science out there, misleading intelligent people everyday. Anyone can put anything on the Internet nowadays. Just because an organization has a webpage does not mean it is credible. When doing research about vaccinations, it is important to consider the source and its credentials.
2. Don’t believe everything you hear or see. Television and media outlets are not the best source for vaccination information. Media can be a good starting point for information, but you should always talk to your doctor if you are unsure about what is best for you or your children. Further, while there can be mild side effects from vaccines, just because someone
you know experiences that does not mean that it will happen to you or your child, or that
those side effects are harmful.
3. Trust: Offit’s final chapter is titled “Trust.” The concept of “trust” truly highlights both sides of his war, and illuminates the need for us as a community to trust in each other. He writes, If we are to get past the constant barrage of misinformation based on mistrust, we have to set aside our cynicism about those who test, license, recommend, produce, and promote vaccines. Only then will we survive this detour-a detour that has caused far too many children to suffer needlessly.
Reading Offit’s work is both sad and encouraging. Reading his work, I was saddened by the masses of parents swayed by bad science, and saddened by the masses of children, as Offit puts it, in the middle of this war. Offit ends his book that he opened with an assertion, with a plea: “Following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, there was a moment when we all stood still and looked at each other. No longer individuals, we were part of a whole. Personal interests were irrelevant. We were united in our grief. One. Then the moment was gone, dissolved in a cloud of lawsuits, fingerpointing, partisanship, and blame. But although fleeting,
it had been there. And if we can recapture the feeling that we are all in this together, all part of a large immunological cooperative, the growing tragedy of children dying from preventable infections can be avoided. We can do this. It’s in us: the better angels of our nature.” It would do all of us well to step back and embrace our communal duty of protecting our nation’s youth.