Over the last couple of years a lot of folks have turned against the idea of vaccinating their children against communicable diseases — you know, the ones kids used to get all the time, and which occasionally killed one of them, such as measles, rubella, mumps, chicken pox, etc. Perhaps the best-known of the anti-vaccine crusaders is Jenny McCarthy, who has an autistic son, and whose autism she blames on vaccines.

Although she’s able to make a compelling, emotional case, her crusade is mistargeted, since vaccines have not been shown to account for the apparent rise of the incidence of autism. The mercury-containing thimerosol — once a preservative used in vaccines — which she claims is the culprit, has not been used in vaccines for many years and likely was not in any of the vaccines her own son was given.

Logic such as this, however, means little, in the face of a Hollywood couple (McCarthy is married to Jim Carrey) with lots of celebrity connections, who has been on Oprah, and has had the megaphone of her celebrity to use to blare out her ill-founded assumptions. Conventional medicine has largely been silent on the matter, though, apparently assuming individual physicians can overcome the anti-vaccine crusade.

Until now, that is.

Dr Paul Offit, a pediatrician who has himself developed vaccines, penned a book which is the opening salvo against the anti-vaccine crusaders’ pseudomedicine (as reported by the New York Times):

A new book defending vaccines, written by a doctor infuriated at the claim that they cause autism, is galvanizing a backlash against the antivaccine movement in the United States.

But there will be no book tour for the doctor, Paul A. Offit, author of “Autism’s False Prophets.” He has had too many death threats.

“I’ll speak at a conference, say, to nurses,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go into a bookstore and sign books. It can get nasty. There are parents who really believe that vaccines hurt their children, and to them, I’m incredibly evil. They hate me.” …

“When Jonas Salk invented polio vaccine, he was a hero — and I’m a terrorist?” he jokes, referring to a placard denouncing him at a recent demonstration by antivaccine activists outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The Times article continues, explaining how the anti-vaccine movement has become largely an emotional one, which no scientific evidence can withstand:

As a result, “a few years ago this ceased to be a civil scientific discourse and became about crucifying individuals,” said Dr. Gregory A. Poland, chief of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic, who says he has had threats against his children. “Paul is a lightning rod, a figure who goes charging into the fray.”

How nice of the anti-vaccine crowd to threaten a man, due to their sanctimonious outrage. As it turns out, the New York Times itself played a role in this controversy:

Arthur Allen, the author of “Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver” (W. W. Norton, 2007), has publicly debated other journalists who argue that vaccines cause autism. Six years ago, he wrote a seminal article in The New York Times Magazine titled “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory.” He later changed his mind and now “feels bad” about the article, he said, “because it helped get these people into the field who did a lot of damage.”

If only the rest of the crackpots could also grow up, rein in their sanctimony, and realize that vaccines save lives and do not cause autism.

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