This Tuesday evening, I’m joining Seth Mnookin at Town Hall in Seattle to discuss vaccines, modern parenthood, and (mis)information about vaccinations online. Although you may know Seth Mnookin secondary to his crucial role in the Boston Marathon Bombings story this past week, at his other day job he’s the co-director of the graduate program in science writing at MIT. He’ll be here in Seattle because he is also the author of a powerful book, Panic Virus, that details the history of vaccine hesitancy in the US.
A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear.
Although the book sits on the nonfiction shelf, it reads like a thriller. Think Contagion meets John le Carre´. I’m not exaggerating here: when I first read the book 2 years ago, I pulled a near-all-nighter because I couldn’t put it down. I don’t think that’s because I’m a pediatrician, I believe I couldn’t put it down because I’m a mom.
I met Seth nearly 2 years ago and he signed my scribbled-in copy of his extraordinary book. Panic Virus changed my understanding of vaccine hesitancy. There are parts of the book that caused my stomach to drop and certainly parts of the book that made me worry.
Seth nit picks science, propaganda, fear, and myth with rollercoaster storytelling. One gestalt occurred when I stumbled upon a footnote. I’d reread a paragraph on page 156-7 four times trying to understand it (it was about physics). It was the footnote that finally put me at ease:
For most of us, understanding special relativity is a little like true love: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment.
Seth puts vaccine science, history, story and fear in arm’s reach.
Seth’s writing coupled with his fastidious attention to fact and detail (there’s 97 pages of notes at the end) enhanced my determination to provide transparency with what we do know and what we don’t know when it comes to vaccine science and safety. It was far easier for me to understand why parents got concerned about vaccine safety after reading Panic Virus.
Seth solidified my ongoing efforts to share what I learn as a pediatrician and mom online.
Seth will read from his book and I’ll detail information I’ve experienced while listening and creating content for parents and pediatricians online when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. I’ll share what it’s been like to write blog posts about shots and vaccine safety as a mom and pediatrician and I’ll share thoughts on hesitancy in general.
Seth told me the main motivation for writing Panic Virus stemmed out of his experience as a new father. One day his feet were planted at a Brooklyn park, surrounded by well-educated, thoughtful parents who were choosing to delay their children’s vaccinations. He couldn’t get a handle on why they were going against the advice of pediatricians. As a science historian and journalist he set to determine rationale behind pervasive doubt.
Some 300 pages later Seth details the history of vaccine hesitancy and the controversial episodes in American life including propaganda from Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, the propulsion of Oprah, and organizations all over the US urging parents to reject public health officials and pediatricians’ advice for immunizations.
Spoiler alert: after detailing the science and stories of the last century, Seth comes out on the side of science, and on the side of on-time vaccines. Like me, Seth immunizes his children on time.
Seth and I will discuss the vaccine dialogue, propagation of myth, and online resources for vaccine information. It’s been clear to me for years that the on and offline networks we tactfully influence our understanding of the world and satisfy our hunger for what is right.
What we hear at the park or on Facebook from our friends really may change our decisions regarding the clothes we buy or the food we eat or the vaccinations we give our children.
For more, join us on Tuesday. For $5 tickets, and to register go here.
Oooh! I wish I could go. Unfortunately, I live on the other coast. I found your blog when researching a presentation in my MPH program (getting a 2nd masters 20+ years after the first). I devoured Seth’s book and count him as one of my heros.
Coming from the science side and entering the public health arena, I truly believe that the lack of commentary from trusted sources and errosion of the trust created an atmosphere ready for the detractors and deniers. The public will follow those who shout the loudest and longest regardless of whether they are right.
I wish I was in the US to attend! Any chance of a podcast or youtube of the content after the presentation? I’m all the way down in Oz but would love to hear what you and Seth have to say – as a mama doc myself, and living in an area of low vaccine uptake, I’m very interested in understanding more about vaccine hesitancy. Good luck, I hope the presentation is a huge success 🙂
Here is the pod cast if you missed it. I went and it was great! https://townhallseattle.org/seth-mnookin-seattle-mama-doc-wendy-sue-swanson-vaccine-myths-parents-modern-health-information/
Jeffry John Aufderheide says
I think it would be amazing if both you and Seth discussed these two studies and got back to us on your analysis.
Elevated maternal C-reactive protein and autism in a national birth cohort.
Inflammatory Responses to Trivalent Influenza Virus Vaccine Among Pregnant Women
Matt Stevens says
Jeffery, good to see you fishing over here. If you were concerned that vaccinations in pregnancy are a problem because they induce an immune response, relax. That’s what they are meant to do, really. And flu vaccines in pregnancy have been shown in several studies to reduce the risk of fetal loss as well as reducing the risks to mom from flu.
Just watched this. Something interesting that you both agreed on in the beginning is that it hurts the credibility of doctors when vaccines are presented as perfect. Included in this is the frequent blanket denialism of problems.
There were so many things I could respond to, but I don’t want to write ten pages. To begin with, I disagree with the characterization of all those with concerns about vaccine safety as “anti-vaccine”. When I hear this term applied to everyone who has concerns, I have doubts about the speaker’s objectivity.
Yes, some people are truly anti-vaccine. Some believe that all vaccines are bad, that none have more benefit than risk for anyone.
But too often we hear conversations that go something like this:
A: “My child received XYZ vaccines and then had XYZ adverse reactions and has not been the same since.”
B: “You are anti-vaccine! Diseases are dangerous, vaccines are good! It is irresponsible not to vaccinate your kids!”
This parent did vaccinate, and saw adverse consequences. The point is that these consequences need to be better understood, for the sake of understanding who is susceptible, how to prevent these adverse reactions (to the extent possible) and how to treat them. Families of children who suffer adverse reactions feel quite abandoned. Because of the need to support the vaccine program, they are told that what they saw happen did not really happen. It’s all a big mystery.