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Book Review: “Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”

A friend suggested she was tired of hearing about vaccines. Her comment and our subsequent conversation seemed to reflect an important shift in parent sentiment: The conversation about vaccines is beginning to get somewhere.

While much of this was born of the mainstream media’s newfound realization that the vaccine-autism connection was cooked, some of this is due to the tireless work of those like the Children’s Hospital of Philedelphia’s Dr. Paul Offit who get the story right.

As part of his passionate agenda to expose vaccine truths, he’s published “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” (Basic Books, 2011). For those looking to understand the origins of anti-vaccine sentiment, read this book.

What struck me is the deep history behind the anti-vaccine movement. From Jenner’s smallpox fix to modern-day MMR struggles, Offit draws fascinating corollaries surrounding immunization that seem to defy the generations. Vaccine resistance was not born of Andrew Wakefield, but broader concerns rooted in religion, individual liberty, fear and propaganda. “Deadly Choices” puts the anti-vaccine movement in a historic sequence that reads like good suspense. I couldn’t put it down.

And just for fun, I’ll bet you didn’t know this: The Raggedy Ann doll is a derivative of the anti-vaccine movement. In 1915, Johnny Gruelle, a cartoonist and illustrator in New York City, lost his daughter to congenital heart disease. Despite the child’s cause of death, Gruelle blamed the smallpox vaccine. In his daughter’s memory, he created a doll with red yarn for hair and floppy arms and legs — a symbol of children harmed by vaccines. He called it Raggedy Ann. Who knew?

Perhaps the most valuable chapter, titled “Dr. Bob,” addresses the myths and fallacies surrounding the alternate vaccine schedule as suggested by Bob Sears. This formal evisceration of “Dr. Bob” and his harebrained scheme is worth the price of the book. It should be a required reading by every parent in America. An excerpt concerning Sears:

Although Sears is probably well meaning, one has to question the hubris of a man who decides to create his own vaccine schedule—someone who claims his schedule is better and safer than that recommended by the CDC and AAP.  It’s all the more amazing when one considers that Robert Sears has never published a paper on vaccine science; never reviewed a vaccine license application; never participated in the creation, testing, or monitoring of a vaccine; and never developed an expertise in any field that intersects with vaccines—specifically, virology, immunology, epidemiology, toxicology, microbiology, molecular biology, or statistics.  Yet he believes he can sit down at his desk and come up with a better schedule.

I have to add that “Deadly Choices” author, Paul Offit, should be seen as the ultimate child advocate. Selflessly representing public health interests in the media, Offit individually works on behalf of children in a way that most of us should. In a self-centered world that has too quickly forgotten the threat of deadly childhood disease, Offit’s is a passionate voice of reason. It’s hard to measure the impact of his advocacy.

Despite the recent attention drawn to Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent behavior, dialog surrounding vaccine truths can’t get enough light. To understand the history behind vaccine hesitancy is to understand the patterns of resistance to future public health efforts. “Deadly Choices” should be a required reading by everyone concerned with the future of children’s health.

Other vaccine-related posts on 33 Charts:

Vaccines, Autism and Firearms

Vaccines, Autism and the Failure of the Hive

Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story

When Autism Divides Neighbors

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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