Including noting the “science of vaccines is clear” in a Jewish Exponent article, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia physician and Vaccine Education Center Director Paul A. Offit, MD, spoke to a number of media outlets about the recent measles outbreaks and the vaccine worries the outbreaks have induced. Dr. Offit is one of the most outspoken vaccine advocates in the country and co-creator of the rotavirus vaccine Rotateq.
“I think it’s a shame that what we have to be seeing in this country right now, which is measles coming back now with more than 100 cases, that we have to … suffer our bad choices by watching children suffer diseases which are preventable,” said Dr. Offit on CNN’s Erin Burnett Out Front. “I mean it’s always the children that suffer,” he added.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that results in an itchy rash. Between January 1 and February 27, 2015, 170 cases of measles were diagnosed in the District of Columbia and 17 states across the U.S., according to the CDC.
And according to additional CDC data, until recently measles had been on the decline, with the disease declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. However, outbreaks in 2014 and 2015 show a marked rise in the incidence of the disease.
In a press briefing about the measles outbreaks, the CDC’s Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the “majority of the adults and children that are reported to us for which we have information did not get vaccinated or don't know whether they have been vaccinated. This is not a problem with the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used.”
Indeed, because measles is viral, there is no treatment for the disease, and the best protection is the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, some parents have refused to give their children the MMR vaccine, fearing it could lead to autism.
The link between vaccines and autism dates to a retracted 1998 The Lancet paper by British physician Andrew Wakefield, MD. That now-debunked study started a series of vaccine safety concerns related to autism that were fueled by a well-organized anti-vaccine movement, vocal celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and poorly researched media reports. Each concern put forth by the anti-vaccine movement — whether MMR vaccine carried risks, to mercury in vaccines, or whether children received too many vaccines — was studied scientifically and disproven. Nonetheless, the damage was done.
“Your job as a physician is to do everything you can do to try to dispel the fear with science,” Dr. Offit told the Wall Street Journal in an article on teaching doctors to talk to patients about vaccines. He also contributed to recent articles in Forbes, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the LA Times, and USA Today.
Other parents have refused the vaccine on moral or religious grounds; a large 2014 measles outbreak was linked to communities of Amish. Indeed, Dr. Offit touched on religious exemptions to the MMR vaccine in an op-ed — “What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” — published recently in the New York Times. Writing about the 1990-1991 measles outbreak in Philadelphia, which killed nine children, he notes:
“Two fundamentalist Christian churches — Faith Tabernacle Congregation and First Century Gospel Church — were at the heart of the outbreak. Children had not been vaccinated, and when they became ill, their parents prayed instead of taking them to the hospital to receive the intravenous fluids or oxygen that could have saved the lives of those with the worst cases.”
Dr. Offit’s remarks come in advance of the release of his newest book, Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine. This follows his 2013 book, Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, in which he examined the science and science fiction behind megavitamins, supplements, and alternative treatments like laetrile. Dr. Offit’s other books include Deadly Choices, about the anti-vaccine movement, and Autism’s False Prophets.
“It seems to me that if religion teaches us anything, it’s to care about our children, to keep them safe,” he notes in his New York Times piece.
Dr. Offit is scheduled to speak about his book and “the danger of faith healing” in a free talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia on March 30.