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The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fearby Seth Mnookin
"The news in 1998 was as startling as the jab of a needle: Dr. Andrew Wakefield, in new study in the influential medical journal The Lancet, had made a connection between MMR vaccination and the onset of autism.
Synopses & Reviews
With employers offering free flu shots and pharmacies expanding into one-stop shops to prevent everything from shingles to tetanus, vaccines are ubiquitous in contemporary life. The past fifty years have witnessed an enormous upsurge in vaccines and immunization in the United States: American children now receive more vaccines than any previous generation, and laws requiring their immunization against a litany of diseases are standard. Yet, while vaccination rates have soared and cases of preventable infections have plummeted, an increasingly vocal cross section of Americans have questioned the safety and necessity of vaccines. In Vaccine Nation, Elena Conis explores this complicated history and its consequences for personal and public health.
Vaccine Nation opens in the 1960s, when government scientists—triumphant following successes combating polio and smallpox—considered how the country might deploy new vaccines against what they called the milder” diseases, including measles, mumps, and rubella. In the years that followed, Conis reveals, vaccines fundamentally changed how medical professionals, policy administrators, and ordinary Americans came to perceive the diseases they were designed to prevent. She brings this history up to the present with an insightful look at the past decades controversy over the implementation of the Gardasil vaccine for HPV, which sparked extensive debate because of its focus on adolescent girls and young women. Through this and other examples, Conis demonstrates how the acceptance of vaccines and vaccination policies has been as contingent on political and social concerns as on scientific findings.
By setting the complex story of American vaccination within the countrys broader history, Vaccine Nation goes beyond the simple story of the triumph of science over disease and provides a new and perceptive account of the role of politics and social forces in medicine.
"In this searching exposÃ©, the recent hysteria over childhood vaccinations and their alleged link to autism be-comes a cautionary tale of bad science amplified by media sensationalism. Journalist Mnookin (Hard News) treats the belief that autism is caused by common vaccines as an epidemic, tracing its origin to a young British doctor's dubious research into Crohn's disease and measles in the early 1990s. This 'panic virus' spread through online communities of parents desperate for answers; fueled by mainstream media, it has created a growing reluctance on the part of parents to vaccinate their children, which, Mnookin warns, results in an increased rate of children dying from preventable infectious diseases. Crucial to this virus's spread was the unwillingness of reporters to parse complex health statistics and their embrace of a populist story line about feisty 'Mercury Moms' challenging a corrupt and covert medical establishment. Mnookin presents a thorough and lucid debunking of the claims of a link between vaccines and autism and the charlatanism and profiteering of those who publicize it. The result is a hard-hitting contribution to the debate and a troubling portrait of a public sphere that elevates intuition and emotion above reason and evidence. (Jan. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Mnookin presents a searing account of how vaccine opponents have used the media to spread their message of panic, despite no scientific evidence to support their fears.
Vaccine Nation tells the recent history of how and why vaccines became such a prized but polemical part of American health care, politics, and culture. In the sixties, American children began to receive more vaccines than any previous generation, and laws requiring their immunization against a litany of diseases became common. In the decades that followed, vaccination rates soared, preventable infections plummeted, and popular acceptance of vaccines remained strong—even as an increasingly vocal cross-section of Americans questioned the safety and necessity of vaccines and the wisdom of related policies. Vaccine Nation examines the origins of some of todays most salient sources of vaccine skepticism. It describes how and why presidents from JFK to Clinton championed childhood vaccination from the White House. And it reveals that new vaccines fundamentally changed the ways health experts and lay Americans perceived the diseases they were designed to prevent. Chapters in the book examine how and why we vaccinate against specific infections—including measles, mumps, hepatitis B, and HPV—and how social movements of the late twentieth century posed profound, but previously overlooked, implications for how Americans today have come to think about vaccination and vaccines.
WHO DECIDES WHICH FACTS ARE TRUE?
In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist with a history of self-promotion, published a paper with a shocking allegation: the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might cause autism. The media seized hold of the story and, in the process, helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever. In the years to come Wakefield would be revealed as a profiteer in league with class-action lawyers, and he would eventually lose his medical license. Meanwhile one study after another failed to find any link between childhood vaccines and autism.
Yet the myth that vaccines somehow cause developmental disorders lives on. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, it has been popularized by media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy and legitimized by journalists who claim that they are just being fair to “both sides” of an issue about which there is little debate. Meanwhile millions of dollars have been diverted from potential breakthroughs in autism research, families have spent their savings on ineffective “miracle cures,” and declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. Most tragic of all is the increasing number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.
In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin draws on interviews with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activists to tackle a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? The fascinating answer helps explain everything from the persistence of conspiracy theories about 9/11 to the appeal of talk-show hosts who demand that President Obama “prove” he was born in America.
The Panic Virus is a riveting and sometimes heart-breaking medical detective story that explores the limits of rational thought. It is the ultimate cautionary tale for our time.
A searing account of how vaccine opponents have used the media to spread their message of panic, despite no scientific evidence to support them.
About the Author
Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former senior writer for Newsweek, where he covered media, politics, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York magazine, and many other publications. He is the author of The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear; Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top and Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Table of Contents
1. Kennedys Vaccination Assistance Act
2. Polio, Measles, and the Dirty Disease Gang”
3. How Serious Is Mumps?
4. Carters Childhood Immunization Initiative
5. A Mothers Responsibility
6. Tampering with Nature
7. Clintons Vaccines for Children Program
8. Sex, Drugs, and Hepatitis B
9. Vaccine Risks and the New Media
10. Sex, Girls, and HPV
Appendix: The Science and Regulation of Vaccines
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