Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All is the first book that I read by infectious-disease expert Paul Offit, M.D. 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 is also the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and Professor Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. Deadly Choices delves into the anti-vaccine movement with a large focus on the anti-DPT vaccine movement in 1982, the movement that propelled current anti-vaccine movements. Not only does Offit explore the history of the anti-vaccine movement; he also outlines with problems with the authority of the individuals and sources used to support the anti-vaccine movement.
Although Deadly Choices cites many scientific studies and reviews from peer-reviewed journals and other authoritative sources, Offit writes at a level that makes the important information accessible to all audiences regardless of training in reading and understanding scientific literature. As an expert within the field, Offit is extremely well-educated on the subject of vaccines, which is evident from his writing. However, he writes for a general audience, making the important information available to anyone researching vaccination and vaccines.
Deadly Choices contains eleven chapters. Chapter one, “The Birth of Fear,” explains the history of the present anti-vaccine movement starting with the one-hour documentary titled DPT: Vaccine Roulette. The other ten chapters touch on the legal aspects of the modern anti-vaccine movement, studies that refute anti-vaccination claims, effects of the anti-vaccine movement on rates of preventable diseases, media and celebrity support of the anti-vaccine movement, and reasons to trust the science behind vaccines and vaccination. An extensive notes section at the of the book offers citations and additional information.
The greatest lesson that I learned from Deadly Choices is to delve deeply into the credentials of a sources. A doctor writing on vaccines is not necessarily an authoritative source. A lawyer is certainly not an expert on vaccines. Lawyers, in particular, are dangerous witnesses. Yet the anti-vaccine movement cites both as authoritative sources. I refuse to believe any statements on vaccines unless the information comes from a licensed and reputable immunologist, vaccinologist, epidemiologist, or other related expert. Offit really drives home the point of trust within the vaccine and anti-vaccine movements.
Accurate and reliable information is necessary to make good decisions. I originally picked up Deadly Choices because I wanted to learn more about the problems with the anti-vaccine movement. As soon as I started reading the book, I found myself experiencing a strong emotional response to the information that Offit presents. As an expert on infectious diseases and vaccines, Offit is obviously biased in favor of vaccines. However, he does not allow his bias to rule his argument but instead uses replicable studies and scientific data to make his pro-vaccine argument for him. He also outlines the problems with the anti-vaccine movement and further backs up his criticism with accurate evidence. Deadly Choices relies largely on logos, and to a lesser extent ethos, as its mode of persuasion. Despite the emotionally charged environment that is the vaccine debate, Offit bases his argument on information and facts to counter the largely emotional argument of the anti-vaccine movement.
Despite the facts, information, scientific studies, and empirical evidence within Deadly Choices, the books remains incredibly engaging. Part of the engagement is the result of the subject matter: The vaccine debate remains a controversial topic that often evokes the emotions of the participants, for better or worse. In addition to writing at the level of a general audience, Offit also manages to make the science behind vaccines — and the lack of science within the anti-vaccine movement — interesting and engaging.
Final Verdict: For any parent researching vaccines, I highly recommend Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All by Paul A. Offit. As an expert on vaccines and infectious diseases, Offit provides an authoritative voice on the subject. The book is accessible to a general audience and remains engaging from cover to cover. All writers have some bias, but Offit manages to avoid emotional arguments and instead focuses largely on replicable studies and other empirical evidence that supports the science of vaccines and refutes the arguments of the vaccine movement. As a vaccine supporter, I highly recommend Deadly Choices to all parents, both pro-vaccinators and anti-vaccinators. The choice to vaccinate, or not, does affect us all.
Offit, Paul A. 2011. Deadly choices: How the anti-vaccine movement threatens us all. Basic Books: New York.
Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All © 2014 Heather Johnson