This is a scathing dismantling of the anti-vaccine movement, its pamphleteers, the dubious huckstery that passes of as science, the hysterical fear-mongering, the assault on science and reason, and the ultimate price paid by the innocent victims - defenseless children.
The book, written by a pediatrician - and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology (as per Wikipedia, and also co-inventor of the Rotavirus vaccine) - is very well-organized, and takes us through the origins of the anti-vaccine movement in 1982 - April 19, 1982, to be precise, "when WRC-TV, a local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., aired a one-hour documentary titled DPT: Vaccine Roulette" - and to its even earlier origins in the nineteenth century in England. The people behind the anti-vaccine movement, while sometimes well-intentioned, remained captives to ideologies and biases - biases that remained resistant to science and evidence. But this is not just a book about the anti-vaccine fundamentalists. The book also describes for instance how herd-immunity suffers when mass-immunizations are compromised, when the "tragedy of the commons" afflicts healthcare. It also dismantles several of the claims made against vaccines - that too many vaccinations overwhelm the body, that there are dangerous chemicals injected into our bodies, that alternative treatments are just, if not more, effective, and some of the more insidious allegations - that vaccines cause autism, or that the pertussis vaccine to protect against whooping cough causes mental retardation.
What makes this book effective and scary is that it makes use of science to debunk the anti-vaccine movement and its champions. While there is undoubtedly a sociological element to this debate, this book chooses to leave that for another book or perhaps to another author.
The irony and tragedy of the the anti-vaccine fundamentalists' campaign is underlined by the fact that it foists a choice upon children - who are in no position to decide, or even refuse to be not vaccinated if they so wanted, for themselves. More importantly, the agonizing consequences of such choices are visited on those least capable of defending themselves - children, again. It is this frustrating evil that makes such blind faith in dogma so infuriating, and unacceptable in a civilized society.
While vaccination may be an accepted and immutable fact of modern childhood, a sometimes painful shot that protects children from diseases that just half a century ago would have killed or crippled hundreds of thousands of children every year, it is also undeniable that a concerted group of individuals are seeking to reverse these gains in child healthcare. This book takes a long, hard, and clinical look at the claims of the anti-vaccine fundamentalists, the falsehoods, deceptions, outright bad science, and tactics of intimidation that they have employed to further their cause, at the cost of leaving children vulnerable, unprotected, and sometimes facing avoidable death.
First off, the author does make it clear that there is space and a need for people who shine a critical light on the safety of vaccines - people like Joe Salamone, who helped change polio vaccination policy in the United States after his son was paralyzed after taking the weakened polio vaccine. In 1998 the US switched to the safer inactivated polio vaccine as a result of Salamone's efforts.
The fact is that as recently as the 1960s, "several vaccines had serious side effects, every year causing allergic reactions, paralysis, or death. Public health officials and doctors didn't hide these problems. But they didn't do anything to correct them, either. And most parents had no idea they existed." What could have been a story of opportunity becomes one of wasted chances in the case of the anti-vaccine brigade. Opposition to vaccines became the end, rather than a means of improving vaccines.
The airing of the documentary, "DTP: Vaccine Roulette" not only birthed the modern anti-vaccine movement, it also launched the career of its writer and producer, Lea Thompson, who went on to have a "meteoric" career, and who "won almost every major award in broadcasting".
A secondary consequence of the anti-vaccine movement was the equally meteoric and inevitable rise in lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies manufacturing vaccines, and the more than hundred-fold increase in money "requested by plaintiffs" (from $25 million in 1981 to $3.2 billion in 1985).
"In response, pharmaceutical companies increased the prices of their vaccines and scrambled to get liability insurance. In early 1982, DTP vaccine cost $0.12 per dose. In June 1983, the cost rose to $2.30; the next year, to $2.80. By 1985, the cost of one dose of DTP vaccine was $4.29--a thirty-five-fold increase in less than three years.
Pharmaceutical companies abandoned vaccines. In 1960, seven companies made DTP. By 1982 only three remained"
Some semblance of sanity was restored when on "October 18, 1986, the last day of the Ninety-Ninth Congress, legislators passed a bill that protected vaccine makers: the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. One month later, President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. The act contained the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which included a list of compensable injuries possibly caused by vaccines."
While the obvious benefits of vaccinations are apparent - protecting children against diseases - there are other not so apparent advantages too. When done on a mass scale, once a "certain percentage of the population" has been vaccinated, "a phenomenon known as population or herd immunity" is achieved. "People who aren't vaccinated or who can't be vaccinated will be protected when surrounded by a highly vaccinated group." ... "The fraction of the population that needs to be vaccinated to provide herd immunity depends on the contagiousness of the infection. For highly contagious infections--such as measles or pertussis--the immunization rate needs to be about 95 percent. For somewhat less contagious infections--like mumps and rubella--herd immunity can be achieved with immunization rates around 85 percent."
This phenomenon of "herd immunity" has an unintended consequence. Think about it - if herd immunity is achieved, then a person living in that "herd" can enjoy the benefits of immunization without having to get himself or herself immunized, right? Yes."After enough people are immunized, those who aren't can hide in the herd, protected by those around them. Second: although vaccines are safe, they aren't perfectly safe."
And thus we come to the "Tragedy of the Commons". As more and more people choose to avail of the free benefits of immunization, herd immunity itself breaks down.
Indeed, Robert Chen, "then head of immunization safety at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, created a graph titled "The Natural History of an Immunization Program"" that "described what happens when vaccines are used for a long time, partitioning the public's reaction into distinct phases." It is a depressing arc of four phases, and the "last and most disturbing phase of Chen's graph offers a solution to the problem posed by unvaccinated children. In this phase, the incidence of preventable deaths becomes so high that parents again seek solace in vaccines."
It would seem that absence does make the heart grow fonder.
Opposition to vaccines has undergone several changes in character, but the basic edifice has been constructed on fear, ignorance, and dogma. While some activists "described vaccination as a perversion of the Christian sacraments", some described vaccination as ""unchristian," a type of "devil worship" that transformed a child into an "anti-Christ.""
Today, the anti-vacciners can be found among "upper-middle class" and the "college- and graduate-school-educated", who believe that the Internet is the key to the acquisition of expert knowledge. They are helped down this path of perdition by self-proclaimed media blowhards like Bill Maher, and Playboy playgirls like Jenny McCarthy. Yes. Strange bedfellows for sure. McCarthy for instance, came to the conclusion that while the MMR vaccine was indeed not responsible for her son's autism, her alternative explanation - "(autism) was caused by vaccine toxins--specifically, mercury, aluminum, and anti-freeze" - was rendered even more bizarre by her subsequent endorsement of toxins - ""I love Botox. I absolutely love it. I get it minimally, so I can still move my face. But I really do think it's a savior." Made by the bacterium that causes botulism, botulinum toxin [Botox] is one of the world's most powerful toxins.)"
Bill Maher wrote an article against vaccines in the Huffington Post, replete with errors. "He argued that polio was on the decline before the vaccine. In fact, in 1943, ten thousand Americans suffered polio; in 1948, twenty-seven thousand; and in 1952, three years before Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, fifty-nine thousand.
Finally, when Maher wanted to educate himself about vaccines he called on Barbara Loe Fisher (a media-relations expert), Russell Blaylock (a neurosurgeon), and Jay Gordon (an anti-vaccine pediatrician). Not one of his advisors is an expert in immunology, virology, bacteriology, epidemiology, or toxicology. And not one has ever published a single study on the science of vaccines."
The crusade against vaccines goes back two centuries. After vaccinations were made mandatory, legal challenges were mounted. These should have ended in 1905, when the US Supreme Court, "by a vote of 7 to 2 - ruled that the right to refuse vaccination wasn't guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Read more ›