No Vaccine? A Different Risk

Paul Offit is one of America’s most-hated scientists. He’s been called a “biostitute” for the pharmaceutical industry and been threatened with death for his advocacy of one of medicine’s greatest innovations: vaccines. In recent years, anti-vaccine sentiment has spread like, well, an epidemic, with frightening results. In 2004, there were 26,000 reported pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the U.S., up from only 1,000 in 1976. A new article in Wired profiles Offit’s crusade and the interesting risk psychology of the anti-vaccine movement. Offit’s mission is really a mission to educate parents about the true risks their children face: “The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk. It’s just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here’s what that different risk looks like.’ Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.” [%comments]


I will never get another vaccine, just another way for the goverment to poison us off. Vaccines are the biggest scam ever created.

Steve M

Unfortunately, many people don't balence competing risks well - worth studying.


We'll just call it evolution in action. I have zero sympathy for the tinfoil hat wearing idiots that are the anti vaccination crowd, especially since they are putting people who have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccinated at higher risk.


Beautiful! The anti-vaccine Luddites should really know what they're risking. Being old enough to have known a few polio victims, I never doubt the need for vaccination. Problem is that most of the anti-vaccine Luddites aren't Luddites at all, they just don't know the risk they're exposing themselves or their children to so they protest the rare risks of the vaccine, the minute risk of something vaccine-related being more real to them than the very real risk of crippling, debilitating and fatal diseases they never see, providing more evidence for the saying, humans are terrible at estimating risk.

Mike B

The real shame is that the costs of this sort of willful ignorance is charged to the children and neighbors of those that would ordinarily be strong candidates for a Darwin Award.

I think that one of the better solutions would be state laws that make vaccination refusers PERSONALLY LIABLE for anyone they or their children infect due to not being properly vaccinated. One's personal freedoms stop at their own nose. If you kill or sicken your neighbor you should be held responsible.


I hate to say it, but- Survival of the Fittest.

It looks a lot different these days than what typically occurs...but it is alive and well!


I do not envy the irrationality and fear Dr. Offit's is up against.

In many ways, the anti-vaccine "movement" is very similar to any other conspiracy that lingers despite all contradictory evidence. Moon-landing deniers, the Birthers, 9/11 conspiracy holders, Holocaust deniers and anti-vaccine crowd all seem to take historical evidence, scientific data, and logic to be further evidence of a "cover-up."

Perhaps the best "cure" will be a revamping of science education, perhaps beginning in elementary school, with the first lesson being: post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Just because the rooster crows before the sun rises, does not mean the rooster causes the sun to rise. Similarly, just because (as the inevitable post will appear) a child who suddenly exhibited autism after getting vaccinated, does not mean vaccines cause autism.

Howard Tayler

The biggest problem here is that doing any research into whether vaccines can be made safer will be taken, right or wrong, as an admission that they are not currently safe.

In short, researching ways to make things better will make things almost instantly worse.


I'm all for this. Now if we could convince creationists to only use medicines effective against diseases that existed no later than 100 years ago, we'd be set.


On one hand, there isn't much difference between denying your child a vaccine and denying them a blood transfusion, or choosing prayer instead of medical care, or a dozen other "choices" parents make that end up hurting their kids.

But on the other hand (and pointed out time and time again), skipping vaccines isn't just a personal choice. It creates an externality on everyone around you by increasing the risk of infection.


Isn't actually a problem of the individual vs society?

If a parent chooses not to vaccinate their children, they are actually relying on their neighbor children's vaccinations to protect their family. No one would get measles if everyone else couldn't get sick. In other words, individuals can practice bad behavior but are protected by the correct behavior of others.

The contradiction is that the more people that skip vaccinations, the more society is at risk. We go through cycles of epidemics due to rising and falling awareness of these risks.

See for instance San Diego in early 2008. This American Life did a nice piece on this as well.


What are you all getting vaccination's for in the U.S.? Here in Europe, we have large vaccination programs for tetanus and swine flue, and no one makes objections to that...


@ #1 Bob:

Any evidence to prove that? Its easy to toss out wild claims without any proof. How about the hordes of studies showing that vaccines are low risk, or the multiple examples just in that article of vaccinaction rates dropping and death rates from infectous diseases skyrocketing?

Its also interesting for me to note that, in my experience, the anti-vaccine crowd is also heavily pro-government healthcare. Interesting that the government is 1. Trying to poison us with vaccines and 2. Is the best person to adminster our health care.


I have to disagree with some of the articles assumptions:

"This isn't a religious dispute, like the debate over creationism and intelligent design"

Baloney. That's exactly what it is.

"counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth"

Can we move away from this misconception that someone who is "highly educated" is intelligent? Many college degrees, even postgraduate, are no more difficult than high school was. I know several people who refuse to have their children vaccinated due to autism "risk". All of them have degrees in things like journalism or international relations. None of the engineers I know are doing this.

Mr. Shiny & New

The problem with people not getting vaccinated is that there are people in society who can not get vaccines, and who must rely on herd immunity. For example, newborns. A baby in Australia recently died of whooping cough because the herd immunity in her town was low due to anti-vax sentiments. This is not a "Darwin Award" scenario: her parents wanted to vaccinate her but couldn't because she was still too young to receive the vaccine.

reality check

Excellent article, thanks for the link.

I certainly support vaccinations and find it very disturbing that the anti-vaccination crowd has to resort to threats and lies when science does not support their 'beliefs'.


My great grandmother gave birth to 14 children...only 6 of them survived past the age of 10 due to sicknesses that are now preventable through vaccines. That's a lot of heartache. On the contrary, my mother gave birth to 6 children, had each one vaccinated and we were all very healthy, active children (who are all still LIVING).


I am completely mystified by the anti-vaccine crowd. Bewildered.


OoO--get the fluoride out of water! But toss some chlorine into that gene pool. Another one of those borderline religious-fervor debates. You guys are really pushing all the buttons this month!


I can't believe so many anti-capitalists fall for the annual flu vaccination scam. You're making large corporations (drug companies and insurance companies) even larger.

Instead, I'm choosing to take responsibility for my own health by getting enough rest, eating right, exercising, and washing my hands and keeping them away from my face. My kids are learning to do the same.