When the letters and e-mails started to pour in, Dr. Paul Offit braced himself. The pediatrician and vaccine inventor is a prominent defender of childhood vaccines, tackling those who have argued that immunizations can cause autism.
His book, “Autism’s False Prophets,” takes on British researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose now-debunked 1998 study in the prestigious Lancet medical journal linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. It also criticizes organized groups that advise parents to avoid vaccinating their children for fear the vaccines may cause autism.
The issue is at the center of a vociferous and often vicious debate, despite the preponderance of scientific opinion in favor of vaccination.
Offit has endured hate-filled letters, death threats and even a phone call that menaced his children. However, his book was greeted with an outpouring of support from parents of children with autism who had previously remained silent.
“It’s actually been exactly the opposite of what I would have guessed,” Offit said in an interview…
Last week a special U.S. federal vaccine court ruled against three families who claimed vaccines caused autism in their children. Offit hopes the ruling, on top of dozens of scientific reports, may reassure parents whose fears about vaccines have caused a plunge in vaccination rates in developed countries.
As a result, childhood illnesses like measles are making a comeback. More than 1,300 measles cases were reported in England and Wales in 2008, and 197,000 people died globally from measles in 2007.
These numbers frustrate public health officials, who cite study after study showing no link between vaccination and autism.
Every decade there is a new rationalization against vaccination. I don’t know what possesses this particular tinfoil hat crowd other than the anti-intellectual, anti-science propaganda of fundamentalist religions.
When I was a kid, we waited through every winter’s illness season to see who died from measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough or diphtheria – just as we feared polio in the summertime. Vaccinations allow generations since to live without that fear.