Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This Tuesday night in Science Center 199, Paul Offit, M.D., will be giving a lecture entitled “The Challenges of Communicating Vaccine Science to the Public.”
Dr. Offit is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He has published over one hundred papers on rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety, and he is the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq. Beyond his work in vaccine research, Dr. Offit has also been involved in vaccine policy, serving as a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Furthermore, he has authored several books for the general public which advocate vaccines and point to the dangers and flawed evidence of the anti-vaccine movement.
The topic of Dr. Offit’s lecture is particularly relevant today. Just this past month, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine be administered to boys and young men. This decision has raised controversy among the public, as parents decide whether or not to vaccinate their sons; in fact, controversy still remains over the administration of the HPV vaccine to girls and young women. Much of the resistance to the vaccine comes from its expense and the fact that the virus it confers immunity to is transmitted sexually. However, controversy regarding the HPV vaccine also stems from a lack of understanding of vaccine science by the general public.
Vaccines are preparations of either killed microorganisms, living but weakened (attenuated) microorganisms, or toxins that have been inactivated. The purpose of administering a vaccine is to evoke an immune response against a particular microorganism or toxin so the immune system can respond quickly and effectively upon exposure to the actual pathogen or toxin. Many of us have probably learned about vaccines through our biology classes in high school or at Swarthmore. Yet the fact remains that many Americans are unaware of what vaccines are, how they work, and how they benefit both the individual and the public. Furthermore, there are still rumors circulating of certain vaccine side-effects that are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence, but are nonetheless believed by many. Perhaps the best known of these is the supposed causal connection between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. This idea was instigated by a now-retracted study, and several other independent studies have not found any evidence to support this association.
The principles underlying vaccines are biological in nature, so how can we educate people without any scientific background on vaccine science? Surely, Dr. Offit’s lecture will give us insights on this. However widespread vaccine education is achieved, it is crucial that people are educated about vaccines in a way that they can fully understand, so that when deciding whether or not to vaccinate themselves or their children, they are making a truly informed decision.
We hope you will join Global Health Forum at 7:00 p.m. on November 15th, in Science Center 199, to learn more about this topic from an esteemed expert in the field.