the vaccine war

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Tom Delbanco, M.D.
April 19, 2010 22:51
Tom Delbanco M.D.A professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care physician at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he also served as senior consultant for this program.

Fear rules three memories of infections and efforts to avoid them in my childhood. My first experience with prevention taught me how to faint gracefully. As a child in England in the 1940s, we would get periodic Schick Tests, an injection testing whether we had antibodies against a dread disease, diphtheria. For some reason, I'd faint right after the needle was withdrawn, but I quickly learned to take it sitting down.

Next, F.D.R was the family hero; he had helped save us Jews, and after arriving in America in 1948 a few years after the War, my parents quickly took my brother and me to pay respects at Hyde Park, the Roosevelt family home. But my mother turned pale when she saw the crowd of visitors, and we never entered the gates. The threat of our contracting infantile paralysis, now known more benignly as polio, trumped the purpose of the visit.

And my third memory is my brother's struggle with the measles: shades pulled down to protect his eyes and the worried look on our pediatrician when he first heard a heart murmur, signifying possible structural damage to a heart valve.

Today, my grandchildren don't run such risk. Moreover, young doctors and young people in America haven't seen these and other illnesses for which we have vaccines. So thoughts turn to benefits versus risks, to possible vaccine interactions with devastating disabilities, and to individual versus social responsibility.

And how the rules for debate have changed! Violent exhortations highlight how Googling, Twittering, YouTubing, Facebooking and blogging have transformed the way we gather, disseminate, consider and discuss all kinds of information.

The Vaccine War addresses complicated issues. Joined by Sigall Bell and Eileen Costello, two doctors both young mothers and expert in this area, I look forward to my first experience blogging and, at times, debating.

We hope our viewers will learn from this FRONTLINE film (coming Tuesday 4/27). So, a suggestion:

Before you watch it, ask yourself these questions, and also consider the answers that were given to these same questions in a recent national survey on vaccines. Next week, watch the broadcast of The Vaccine War, and we'll ask you to consider the questions again afterwards.

A good book, debate, or film makes one think, and perhaps even alter one's views: Will your understanding and/or opinions have changed? It's generally true that "Where you sit is where you stand." But if the film, fortified by this website, makes you shift in your seats a little bit, it will have been worthwhile!

posted april 27, 2010

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