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

Overview


In 2014, California suffered the largest and deadliest outbreak of pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” in more than fifty years. This tragedy was avoidable. An effective vaccine has been available since the 1940s. In recent years other diseases, like measles and mumps, have also made a comeback. The reason for these epidemics can be traced to a group whose vocal proponents insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that vaccines are poison. As a consequence, parents and ...
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Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

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Overview


In 2014, California suffered the largest and deadliest outbreak of pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” in more than fifty years. This tragedy was avoidable. An effective vaccine has been available since the 1940s. In recent years other diseases, like measles and mumps, have also made a comeback. The reason for these epidemics can be traced to a group whose vocal proponents insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that vaccines are poison. As a consequence, parents and caretakers are rejecting vaccines for themselves and their families.

In Deadly Choices, infectious-disease expert Paul Offit takes a look behind the curtain of the anti-vaccine movement. What he finds is a reminder of the power of scientific knowledge, and the harm we risk if we ignore it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the second book this season (after journalist Seth Mnookin's The Panic Virus) to attack vaccine paranoia, Offit—who drew antivaccinist fire for Autism's False Prophets—presents a smart, hard-hitting exposé of vaccine pseudoscience. Offit brings outstanding credentials to the subject: he's a vaccinologist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and an expert in infectious diseases, and he tackles claims that childhood inoculations cause brain damage, autism, diabetes, and cancer, finding a farrago of misinformation, faulty research, and sly deceptions fed to distraught parents by media hype, ax-grinding activists, and personal-injury lawyers. He embellishes his account with a sprightly history of paranoid medical populism—19th-century critics of the cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine insisted it could turn people into cows—and a blistering attack on celebrity antivaccine ideologues Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Bill Maher and the medical writers who pander to parental anxieties. Offit dwells less than Mnookin on the sociology of the controversy and more on the science. The result is a thorough dismantling of antivaccine notions and a sober warning about the resurgence of deadly childhood infections stemming from declining vaccination rates. Worried parents, especially, will find this a lucid, compelling riposte to antivaccine fear-mongering. Photos. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

Perri Klass, Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics, New York University; author of Treatment Kind and Fair
Deadly Choices carries a very important message for parents, journalists, physicians, and everyone who cares about children and health. It is a passionate, but also compassionate, call for civil discourse and rational conversation on a subject which matters so much to each of us individually and to us all as a society. It is a fascinating account of society and science, politics, publicity, and public health.” 

David Oshinsky, Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin; author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Polio: An American Story
“A medical crisis has come to America. Diseases of our grandparents’ generation are making a deadly comeback as more and more parents choose not to vaccinate their children. How did this happen? Who is responsible? And what can be done to reverse this unconscionable assault upon our nation’s public health? For the answers, provided in clear, common sense, page-turning fashion, I recommend Deadly Choices by Dr. Paul Offit—a timely and courageous call to arms by the nation’s foremost expert on pediatric infectious disease.”

Michael Specter, Staff Writer, The New Yorker; author of Denialism
“With Deadly Choices, Paul Offit has once again brought clarity and reason to a subject that desperately needs them both. If you care about the health of your children – or the health of anybody’s children – you need to read this book as soon as you can.”

Robert M. Goldberg, Ph.D., Vice President, Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and author of Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used to Hijack Medical Science for Fear and Profit
“This is a courageous book by a courageous researcher and physician. Paul Offit’s new book tells the truth about the anti-vaccine movement, its unquestioning followers in the media and about the deadly consequences of their campaign of fear. Deadly Choices demonstrates that the enemies of immunizations are successful because too many of us have remained silent in the face of their falsehoods and intimidation. Dr. Offit shows that by standing up for science we can win the war against those who would leave our children defenseless against infectious disease.”

Steven Novella, Assistant Professor and Director of General Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine
“Dr. Offit brings to life in careful and compelling detail the story of misguided and dangerous activists using bad science to attack one of the most effective public health interventions ever devised. It is a must-read cautionary tale of the abuse of celebrity, the media, misinformation and fear.”

Chris Mooney, author of Unscientific America
“Paul Offit is that rarity: An eloquent, outspoken scientist with a gift for writing narrative. I cannot imagine a better counter to the scientifically challenged—and just plain dangerous—anti-vaccination movement. We’re fortunate to have him.”

Kirkus (starred review)
“Offit takes aim at the anti-vaccine movement in America and scores a bull’s-eye.... A much-needed book with solid evidence – deserves all the publicity it can get.”

Booklist (starred review)
“Infectious disease expert Offit, long an outspoken and prolific champion of universal immunization via vaccines, ratchets up the urgency of his crusade by taking on the loudest and highest-profile spokespersons for the anti-vaccine movement…. Armed with his own arsenal of anecdotal horror stories that focus on worst case histories of the unvaccinated, mostly children, in addition to pages of scientific study citations supporting his premise, Offit pulls no punches. His tone is edgier than usual this time, his arguments more virulent. It is clear that he wants his message and the facts, not rumors or infectious diseases, to go viral.”

Science News
“In a meticulously researched tour de force, Offit exposes the lack of science underlying the claims of the anti-vaccine movement…. In 2009 and 2010, U.S. courts ruled against claims linking autism with vaccines. Still, many vaccine opponents aren’t persuaded, and they have talk show access and Hollywood friends. To level the playing field, every doctor’s office should have a copy of Offit’s book, giving parents the other side of the story.”

Financial Times
“Offit… is a rare combination of scientist, doctor, communicator and advocate. In Deadly Choices, he powerfully lays out the history of vaccinations and their net benefit to society today.”

Journal of the American Medical AssociationDeadly Choices masterfully presents the history of the antivaccine movement, which finds its origin in the time of Edward Jenner, and provides a devastating rendition of the antiscientific mentality that animates the celebrities and physicians alike who grant this movement moral legitimacy…. It is my belief that when new histories of vaccination’s prowess are written, Offit will be mentioned in the same breath as Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Maurice Hileman, Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, Baruch Blumberg, Max Theiler, Robert Austrian, and the other giants of vaccinology who have incalculably benefitted humankind…. I recommend Deadly Choices, in the highest possible terms, as an anecdote and tool to fight for the glory of vaccines. The survival of humankind depends on it.”

Kirkus Reviews

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 documentaryDPT: 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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465057962
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/10/2015
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 304

Meet the Author


Paul A. Offit, MD, is the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. A professor of vaccinology and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the author of several books, he lives in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
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Table of Contents

Prologue ix

Introduction xi

1 The Birth of Fear 1

2 This England 13

3 A Crude Brew 25

4 Roulette Redux 45

5 Make the Angels Weep 57

6 Justice 85

7 Past Is Prologue 105

8 Tragedy of the Commons 127

9 The Mean Season 149

10 Dr. Bob 171

11 Trust 191

Epilogue 207

Notes 215

Selected Bibliography 255

Acknowledgments 257

Index 259

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