Few topics are as divisive in the autism community as vaccines. There are those who are convinced that their child’s diagnosis began with a reaction to a shot, while others argue that there is no evidence to support this. The debate is further fueled by sudden outbreaks of diseases thought to be eradicated years ago, outbreaks many doctors blame on the anti-vaccination movement.
Dr. Paul A. Offit is a vocal supporter of vaccines. He is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He is the author of several books, including Do You Believe in Magic? and Autism’s False Prophets, and is the recipient of several awards, including the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Disease Society of America. He is also the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq.
He is also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, but his latest project is focused on training doctors on more than anatomy and physiology. He recently met with a group of doctors at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, to help them reassure parents who are worried about vaccinating their children.
The training included a series of role-playing interactions in which doctors responded to common concerns parents express about vaccinations. Dr. Offit played the part of the concerned parent, asking questions such as, “I know you doctors keep telling me that vaccines don’t cause autism. If that’s true, then why is it on this package insert?” He goes on to explain that pharmaceutical companies are legally obligated to list any condition known to have occurred within six weeks of a vaccination, whether or not the vaccine caused the condition.
He also advised the doctors on other common concerns, such as the effect of bundling vaccines (shots that protect against more than one illness), and additives that have been singled out as potentially harmful.
At times, his role playing can get confrontational, mirroring interactions between doctors and the affluent clientele they serve in the Los Angeles area. UCLA paediatric immunologist Dr. E. Richard Stiehm says,
“In this area, we have a lot of families who don’t want to get their children immunized.”
For many doctors, it can be a fine line between standing firm or possible alienating well-intentioned, worried parents. Dr. Lisa Stern says that she sees many families who are “on the fence” regarding immunizations. She says,
There’s a lot of misinformation at baby groups and on the playground. The more educated people are and the more free time they have, the more they will take a position.”
Proponents of the anti-vaccination movement view Dr. Offit as a mouthpiece for the pharmaceutical industry, citing his involvement in creating the rotavirus vaccine. Others see him as an important voice in the medical community, counteracting the fear and misinformation that could leave many children vulnerable to infectious diseases. For more information about Dr. Offit, visit his website at http://paul-offit.com/.