How the anti-vaccine movement threatens America's children

SAN FRANCISCO - Deadly diseases are making a comeback. Pertussis, or whooping cough, has killed nine infants this year in California, and outbreaks of measles and Hib meningitis have struck U.S. communities in the past three years.

At the heart of all these outbreaks: Parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children.

Paul Offit, MD, FAAP, a noted vaccine expert and vocal critic of the anti-vaccine movement, will trace the history of vaccine fears in America during a plenary address at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco Monday, Oct. 4. In his talk, scheduled for approximately 11:50 a.m. PT at the Moscone Center, Dr. Offit will highlight:

  • The origins of religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccines in the U.S.;
  • The impact of those exemptions on vaccine rates and the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases;
  • The delicate balance between individual freedoms and societal good.

"Parents are bombarded with false stories about the dangers of vaccines, and the result is that some are backing away from vaccinating their children," said Dr. Offit. "This is tragic, because it leaves children vulnerable to deadly diseases, and it lowers the immunity of the entire community."

The pertussis epidemic in California is just the latest example of a disease that has taken a foothold thanks to low immunization rates. In 2008, 11 children around San Diego were infected with measles after an unvaccinated child returned home from Switzerland with the infection. In 2009, five children in Minnesota contracted Hib meningitis - a vaccine-preventable infection - and one died. Several cases and at least two deaths were also reported in other states.

"We are at a crossroads," said Dr. Offit. "If population immunity continues to break down, the door will open wider to diseases that we thought had been vanquished by vaccines."

A co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, Dr. Offit's passionate advocacy for immunization has made him a frequent target of the anti-vaccine movement. His new book, "Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All," will be published by Basic Books in January.