Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mark A. Largent's "Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America"

Mark A. Largent is an associate professor of history and director of the Science, Technology, Environment, and Public Policy Program at Michigan State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Vaccine drops the reader into the middle of a discussion of Andrew Wakefield’s research on inflammatory bowel syndrome in the early 1990s. The work eventually led to a 1997 paper in Britain’s premier medical journal The Lancet that suggested that the combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause neurological damage in some children. Today, health authorities vilify Wakefield for leading the public to believe that vaccines might cause autism.

Health officials are absolutely certain that vaccines do not cause autism. They brandish authoritative studies and compile mountains of scientific evidence to support their assertions that vaccines are safe and effective. Then, they are frustrated to learn that 40% of American parents choose to alter the routine vaccination schedule or outright refuse some of the recommended vaccines for their children.

The fear that vaccines cause autism is proxy for a complex set of concerns that American parents have about the modern vaccination schedule. Scientific evidence alone will never assuage their fears. Over the last twenty-five years we have more than quadrupled the number of vaccines young children receive. Today, a fully vaccinated 6-year-old will get nearly three dozen vaccinations, most of them in the first 18 months of life. There are so many vaccines, against so many obscure diseases, given at such a young age under intense time and financial constraints. It is no wonder that parents bridle at vaccine requirements. At the same time, state legislatures have made it easier than ever for most Americans to opt out of the mandatory vaccines.

Vaccine takes parents’ concerns about their children’s vaccines seriously. It explains the origins of the claim that vaccines might cause autism, it describes some of the many problems with the modern vaccination schedule, and it offers advice for parents as they struggle with difficult decisions about their children’s vaccinations. The modern American debate over vaccines will not be resolved with scientific studies or authoritative statements from physicians. It will require us to understand and address parents’ actual concerns about the modern vaccination schedule.
Learn more about Vaccine at the the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue