When I was in Washington for the media and advocacy training that comes with being a Shot@Life champion, I was given a book called “The Panic Virus” by Seth Mnookin. I had not gotten a chance to read it, and having been chosen for this trip, I thought maybe I should bring it along and finally pore through it. I didn’t think I’d read but a few chapters, but the book is actually so interesting and full of facts, I read it from cover to cover. First, you should know that much of the book is primarily centered on the U.S. and the U.K., so the information I’m going to relay is relevant to us. As a UN champion, we hear all the time: “Why don’t you focus on things right here in our own backyard?” I even heard it from my mother and many of my co-workers.
We live in an age of tremendous information and the ability to spread it instantaneously through technology. Social media helps us connect people and stories at the speed of culture. People are indeed the new media–a human ad network that can in an instant convey the right and the wrong information, which can spread like wildfire. And today’s media too often doesn’t dig deep enough when reporting. With the power of word-of-mouth and the rabid, sensationalism of traditional media, you can have a recipe for misinformation. Such is the case with vaccines. There are measles, chickenpox, typhoid, diarrhea, polio and rotavirus killing children every day, but the worst virus of all is the panic virus and it’s often unsubstantiated evidence. The world is taking these purported facts, figures, and advice and believing the statements without the necessary validated evidence.
HERE ARE A FEW PLAIN AND SIMPLE FACTS
• The doctor behind much of the autism scare was thoroughly investigated and his work discredited after volumes of due diligence. And his ability to practice was revoked. Yet his legacy of misinformation is still very much alive in the minds of parents.
• We nearly eradicated or have under control many diseases in the U.S. But the problem is the more effective the vaccines appear, the less people think they are necessary. The outbreak of measles in 2008 was attributed then to the “growing trend to decline vaccines.” And measles are one of the most deadly diseases known to man.
• We are not protected by “herd immunity”– a situation where enough members of a community are vaccinated that they protect the unimmunized. It only takes one infected person to spread a disease.
• People and diseases travel. The U.S. currently has more cases of measles than we’ve seen in the past 15 years. Tanzania has been polio free since1996, but neighboring countries like Uganda and Kenya threaten this huge accomplishment by bringing it back over the border.
• We need to stay vigilant. Just because a disease seemingly disappears, they can re-emerge. The number of whooping cough or pertussis cases is causing huge concerns in several states right now. Its early symptoms mimic a cold and a cough, so many are not getting their children care enough and those delays can often critical impact on a child’s life.
• As if contracting these diseases wasn’t enough, many of our doctors don’t know how to recognize these diseases since some of them haven’t been seen in years.
• Vaccines are the most tested medicines we have today. And vaccines work and save lives.
At the Shot@Life press conference, I was told a story about a mother walking 15 miles to get her child vaccinated. She had walked those many miles because she was determined she would not lose another to a preventable disease. We are so fortunate to have access to life-saving medicines in the U.S.
If you are a parent concerned about vaccinating your child, you should read this book. The Panic Virus bibliography consists of 100 pages of notes and sources. Seth Mnookin did his homework. You should also schedule a conversation with your pediatrician to talk through your concerns.