AAP 2011: Discussing America's Anti-vaccine Movement

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Stop me if you've heard this before: vaccines are controversial. However, there is one place where there is no controversy at all-that place is in downtown Boston at a Convention Center where the American Academy of Pediatrics is gathering.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: vaccines are controversial. However, there is one place where there is no controversy at all—that place is in downtown Boston at a Convention Center where the American Academy of Pediatrics is gathering.

The leader of the “America’s Anti-vaccine Movement” this morning was Dr. Paul Offit. If anyone knows about vaccines it’s Offit, who is not only Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, but also co-creator of the rotavirus vaccine—an immunization that is credited with saving the lives of hundreds on a daily basis. And if anyone knows about the controversies that vaccines fuel, it’s Offit, who has received death threats in the past for his outspoken views on the importance of immunizations.

In a jam-packed auditorium, Offit began his free-flowing speech by saying that he would prefer to look on the bright side of things when it comes to parent vaccinating their children. In fact, approximately 90% of parents adhere to their pediatrician’s recommendations and vaccination schedule (which is produced annually by the AAP). He says that this is a good thing, contrary to the media spin, which tends to focus on the 10% of parents that choose not to vaccinate their children for theological reasons or fear of their children being at risk for autism, chronic fatigue, diabetes, etc.

But even the media is beginning to pull back when it comes to fueling the vaccination debate, perhaps, says Offit, because they have been burned badly by people like Andrew Wakefield, who wasn’t just wrong when he declared a link between the MMR vaccine and autism—he was fraudulently wrong.

Offit told a number of anecdotes in addressing the anti-vaccine movement. He recalled a time in a hospital where he worked when 9 employees refused the influenza vaccine. Those 9 people were subsequently fired for their refusal, something that the private hospital was entitled to do and something that Offit was in favor of. Four of those people were non-union workers and did not have a leg to stand on. The other 5 were a part of a workers union and attempted to fight their dismissal by claiming that it was not part of their collective bargaining agreement. They went to a moderator and lost the case.

Another story involved a young child who was not vaccinated for pertussis who then infected several infants (the vaccine is not administered until 2 months old and the does not fully protect a child until nearly 1 year of age), one of which died. The mother of the infant that died became a proponent of vaccinations, explaining that parents who did not choose to vaccinate their children were essentially making the conscious decision to put other children at risk.

The moral of both stories was that, when parents choose to listen to celebrities or misinformed individuals with an agenda over their pediatricians, they are not only impacting their own children but also the people around those children. Each year there are deaths from influenza, measles, and pertussis that could easily have been avoided.

Offit’s speech was inspiring, something that was certainly needed at the 7:00 am session. You could see the audience hanging on every word and many were happy to have him represent them on this issue. It was encouraging to see large doses of common sense being administered and well received by those who are responsible for immunizing the nation’s children.

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