Wired Magazine: an epidemic of fear

20 Oct

Amy Wallace has written her first piece for Wired Magazine, and it is sure to draw a lot of attention. The article, An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, covers a lot of ground. The main focus is basically an extended interview with Dr. Paul Offit.

Just in case there are any readers who haven’t heard of Dr. Offit, he is an infectious disease specialist, co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, and outspoken critic of the idea that vaccines caused an autism epidemic. Or, as Ms. Wallace writes in her introduction, “To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America.”

Orac, over at Respectful Insolence, has already blogged the article.

The piece points out the very real dangers of vaccine preventable diseases. It also discusses briefly some of the luminaries of the anti-vaccine movement: people like Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr and his deeply flawed article in Rolling Stone, Barbara Loe Fisher…unfortunately it is a long list.

Ms. Wallace also discusses autism’s thriving alternative medical community. Search for “Enter the snake oil salesmen” if you want to find that section quickly. Ms. Wallace attended an Autism One conference and reports on her findings.

In discussing how the membership in the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has changed from mostly medical and vaccine professionals to mostly epidemiologists and public health professionals, Ms. Wallace writes:

That’s not by accident. According to science journalist Michael Specter, author of the new book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, the controversy surrounding vaccine safety has made lack of expertise a requirement when choosing members of prominent advisory panels on the issue. “It’s shocking,” Specter says. “We live in a country where it’s actually a detriment to be an expert about something.” When expertise is diminished to such an extent, irrationality and fear can run amok.

Dr. Offit makes a very good point in the article about risk:

“The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk,” he says. “It’s just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here’s what that different risk looks like.’ Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.”

Unfortunately, we now have highly visible doctors like “Doctor Bob” Sears who recommend that people who don’t vaccinate “hide in the herd” so to speak. He tells people in his book that if they don’t vaccinate they should keep quiet about it so that vaccination rates stay high and their family remains protected by the rest of us who do vaccinate.

While morally reprehensible, Dr. Bob’s advice is accurate. From the Wired story:

The frightening implications of this kind of anecdote were illustrated by a 2002 study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. Looking at 3,292 cases of measles in the Netherlands, the study found that the risk of contracting the disease was lower if you were completely unvaccinated and living in a highly vaccinated community than if you were completely vaccinated and living in a relatively unvaccinated community. Why? Because vaccines don’t always take. What does that mean? You can’t minimize your individual risk unless your herd, your friends and neighbors, also buy in.

Wired makes special note of the organizations which are particularly vocal in the “anti-vaccine” message:

Anti-Vaccine Websites

Though many of these organizations would not define themselves as such, these are the most active organizations and websites in the current battle against vaccines:

National Vaccine Information Center
Autism One
Generation Rescue
Treating Autism
National Autism Association
Autism File

As Orac points out, the Age of Autism blog would fit in well with the above list.

I wish I could bet on the criticisms that are headed towards Dr. Offit after this article. I’m fairly confident I can pick out the paragraphs that will be focused upon.

If you read the article, you will understand this: Bonnie, thanks for loaning us your husband. He is a true friend to children.

8 Responses to “Wired Magazine: an epidemic of fear”

  1. David N. Brown October 20, 2009 at 08:31 #

    I think a major reason why expertise has become a drawback is that the supply of qualified vaccine specialists is too small to be drawn from without overlapping with pharmaceutical company payrolls. On the bright side, a panel of epidemiologists will at least pay attention to epidemiological studies.
    Most important point to drive home against anti-vax conspiracy theories: Vaccines LOSE money. If we can eradicate the myth of vast vaccine profits, hopefully people will stop making “COI” a central issue.

  2. jp October 20, 2009 at 18:11 #

    I came across this published on October 12th:

    “Vaccines cleared of autism charge (article at Science Daily)

    A new review finds that vaccinations do not cause autism. One concern was that a mercury-based preservative in vaccines was at fault, but the preservative was removed from vaccines in California, Denmark, and Sweden and autism rates continued to rise. And while many children exhibited autism after getting the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination, this appears to be only because the vaccination is usually given about the age when autism first manifests. The actual cause of increased autism (aside from increased diagnosis and reporting) remains unknown.”

    This article was also an eye opener to me as I was just finishing McCarthy’s book (at which point I was almost in tears of confusion and even wondering about the small amount of mercury in my teeth).:


    I think most people’s hearts are in the right place. We don’t have the answers and it is very easy for parents to confuse correlation with cause, but certainly it is good that they demand that vaccines be as safe as possible.

    I am very thankful to Obama for putting many resources into autism research in his first week in office. Good work is being done everywhere, and maybe we’ll have more answers soon. A genetic variant may have already been isolated.

  3. livsparents October 20, 2009 at 19:06 #

    “Age of Autism blog would fit in well with the above list”

    Wouldn’t “define the list” be a better choice?

    What gets me riled more than anything is that all but one of these organizations are either definitionally or overtly using autism as the ‘base camp’ from which to launch their vaccination diatribes. At least NVIC has the ‘decency’ to not try and hide themselves behind an unrelated fascade.

    Can’t say I’m a big fan of Offit, but given the choice between someone who has potential conflicts of interest vs groups that are doing real and substantial damage within the autism community and beyond; I’d rather focus my animosity on groups destroying my neighborhood before quibbling over philosophical minutia…

  4. Cori Law October 20, 2009 at 20:32 #

    It is hard as a parent to know what is best for your child. They MD’s go to school, study and research to help keep us healthy. I, myself went to school for education and I was PRO-Immunizations. I think it is healthy for us, our kids and society as a whole. And, I am grateful for the invention of immunizations. But, I am torn like most people who have Autistic kids. It is easy to say that the Autism groups are Anti-Immunization because they want to blame and cause panick and fear in society. I believe that they want their kids to be safe and healthy. And, is it not safe to say that kids who are medically challanged may have different reactions to medication? All I am saying is that I am PRO-SAFE-IMMUNIZATIONS. Both of my kids will be fully immunized, even my Autistic 4 year old, on a different schedule than most kids. But, then I have done both my part for society and my kids. And, I have been to many of the websites listed above and I have NEVER read anything about NOT Immunizing my kids at all.

  5. Mike Stanton October 20, 2009 at 20:48 #

    My favourite part of the article is this

    Curt Linderman Sr., the host of “Linderman Live!” on AutismOne Radio and the editor of a blog called the Autism File, recently wrote online that it would “be nice” if Offit “was dead.”

    I’d met Linderman at Autism One. He’d given his card to me as we stood outside the Westin O’Hare talking about his autistic son. “We live in a very toxic world,” he’d told me, puffing on a cigarette.

    It was hard to argue with that.

  6. livsparents October 20, 2009 at 23:12 #

    “I have been to many of the websites listed above and I have NEVER read anything about NOT Immunizing my kids at all”

    Problem is that the rhetoric is so much part of the position, it’s next to impossible for them to back up to a reasonable position.

    “There is far too much thimeresol going into our kid’s schedule”
    Fine, thimeresol use drastically reduced.
    “No,we want thimeresol completely OUT of vaccines. Trace amounts, emergency supplies, even in the manufacturing process…otherwise, your….BABY KILLERS”

    “Get ALL toxins out of vaccines”
    Concept is fine, until the rhetoric starts and the extremist misinformation takes hold. Every negative aspect ever discovered in or about vaccines is then haphazardly dragged out from antifreeze to fetal tissue to show “how bad” the vaccines are. Intermingled are the rare legitimate vaccine injuries, and ‘bad lots’ just to give it a hint of validity. But when push comes to shove, they will wind up saying that vaccines are inherently ‘toxic’ and there is no redeemablity to vaccines.

    “We want a safe vaccine schedule”
    Problem is, they’s painted themselves into such a toxic corner that no one aside from Dr. Sears will even propose alternatives. Otherwise, the demands always seem to be too extreme; the testing too stringent; the requirements too high to meet (nothing drives a scientist to drink more than the statement ‘prove 100% safe’). The ‘safe’ vaccine and schedule that they seek is almost always unattainable: economically, logistically, scientifically….practically…

    In short, they may not ‘say’ anti-vaccine, but they certainly walk, look and quack like a duck…


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  2. Wired Magazine: an epidemic of fear | Left Brain Right Brain – International Badass Activists - August 26, 2020

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