Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I didn't think much about the anti-vaccine movement before coming to work at Large Nameless Agency. I just took it for granted that my kids would get their shots on schedule. My childhood memories of various illnesses were not good, and I had no intention of reliving some of my mother's nightmares if I could avoid it.

My sister, the one who's having one of those over-the-hill birthdays today, almost didn't make it to her first one: she had measles when she was 11 months old and, based on what my mother's said, came really close to dying. So did my brother -- he wound up in the hospital in an oxygen tent when he contracted pneumonia as a secondary infection. I probably had the lightest case --there are no family stories about anyone being particularly worried that I was about to take a dirt nap, but I do recall being in bed for at least a week, confined to a darkened room, feverish, and the doctor making repeated house calls.

I also remember several childhood friends being really, truly, horribly ill with whooping cough for what seemed like forever. My mother tells stories about diphtheria epidemics during the Depression, and I've seen the headstones in the hometown cemetery providing poignant testimony to the families that went from having 7 or 8 kids to having 1 or 2 in a matter of a few days.

In short, I didn't hesitate when I had kids. They got their shots. No questions, no quibbling, no arguing with anyone. And once they had them all, I didn't think about immunizations again until I landed here in Atlanta and was amazed to see protestors regularly picketing the Centers for Disease Control and accusing the federal government, state health departments, pharmaceutical companies, and countless others of a vast cover-up regarding vaccines. I was astounded. Somehow I had managed to miss the Jenny McCarthy dog and pony show regarding what causes autism. (To be honest, I didn't even know she had kids.) According to Orac, Jenny's become the public face of the anti-vaccine movement.

In the past year-and-a-half I've learned there are lunatics out there who dismiss illnesses such as measles as merely "childhood diseases," and who are sufficiently brain dead to do things like deliberately expose their kids to mumps or chickenpox. I could understand the chickenpox parties back before there was a vaccine, but now? Chickenpox kills people. So does mumps. So does measles. So does rubella, or German measles, although it's more likely to just stick a person with a lifetime problem with arthritis. Nonetheless, the anti-vaccine movement is rolling merrily along, promoting pseudoscience while trying to blame vaccination for conditions such as autism that more and more research is indicating are primarily genetic in causation.

In an attempt to fight back against the anti-science crowd, Dr. Paul Offit has written a book defending vaccines. Normally when an author comes out with a book that discusses a hot topic his or her publisher will send the author on a multi-city book tour, arrange for appearances on Oprah or Ellen, readings and signings at major bookstores, and generally get the author out in front of the public. Not in this case. According to the New York Times:

But there will be no book tour for the doctor, Paul A. Offit, author of “Autism’s False Prophets.” He has had too many death threats.
Note: The photo is of a child suffering from chickenpox. Why would any parent put a kid through that if they could avoid it? (The lesions can also occur on the inside of the mouth and the eyelids.)


  1. Wow. We did the vaccine thing and I considered it for about three seconds. The benefits appeared to outweigh the risks by such wide margins, I could never really consider not having my kids receive the vaccines.

  2. They did a good job with this topic on the TV show Private Practice last week. This isn't even a new issue. I was working in the nutrition industry 25 years ago and there was a big to do about vaccinations then.

  3. I'm a little late to this discussion -- catching up on my reading a little tonight -- but I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is pure insanity to skip the vaccines. And it endangers not only your own child but also other kids. In some cases/for some kids vaccines are not fully effective; they may make your case of whatever it is lighter than it might otherwise be, but won't fully protect against it. In part, vaccines work because of the "herd immunity" -- if everyone is pretty well resistant, then it is less likely there will be an outbreak. But if some kids skip them, and then get the measles, even the vaccinated kids may end up with a pretty uncomfortable (if relativelyl mild and probably not life-threatening) case of measles. And any kid who hasn't yet been fully vaccinated, or who can't be vaccinated, due to immune problems or other medical issues, faces that much higher of a risk of these preventable diseases.

    The whole anti-vaccine movement drives me bonkers.


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