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Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All Hardcover – December 28, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the second book this season (after journalist Seth Mnookin's The Panic Virus) to attack vaccine paranoia, Offit—who drew antivaccinist fire for Autism's False Prophets—presents a smart, hard-hitting exposé of vaccine pseudoscience. Offit brings outstanding credentials to the subject: he's a vaccinologist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and an expert in infectious diseases, and he tackles claims that childhood inoculations cause brain damage, autism, diabetes, and cancer, finding a farrago of misinformation, faulty research, and sly deceptions fed to distraught parents by media hype, ax-grinding activists, and personal-injury lawyers. He embellishes his account with a sprightly history of paranoid medical populism—19th-century critics of the cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine insisted it could turn people into cows—and a blistering attack on celebrity antivaccine ideologues Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Bill Maher and the medical writers who pander to parental anxieties. Offit dwells less than Mnookin on the sociology of the controversy and more on the science. The result is a thorough dismantling of antivaccine notions and a sober warning about the resurgence of deadly childhood infections stemming from declining vaccination rates. Worried parents, especially, will find this a lucid, compelling riposte to antivaccine fear-mongering. Photos. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Infectious disease expert Offit, long an outspoken and prolific (Vaccinated, 2007) champion of universal immunization via vaccines, ratchets up the urgency of his crusade by taking on the loudest and highest-profile spokespersons for the anti-vaccine movement. He spares no one, not Jim Carrey, not Jenny McCarthy, television’s Dr. Oz, or even Dr. Bob Sears, as he tosses salvo after salvo of scientific evidence across the bow of their anti-vaccine ships. Their anti-vaccine arguments, he says, consist of nothing more than anecdotal drama combined with conspiracy theories that pander to parents’ most emotional fears. What they should be doing, he says, is encouraging parents to trust the huge bank of scientific data proving the safety of vaccines and their efficacy in eliminating many deadly infectious diseases. Armed with his own arsenal of anecdotal horror stories that focus on worst case histories of the unvaccinated, mostly children, in addition to pages of scientific study citations supporting his premise, Offit pulls no punches. His tone is edgier than usual this time, his arguments more virulent. It is clear that he wants his message and the facts, not rumors or infectious diseases, to go viral. --Donna Chavez

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021499
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul A. Offit, M.D., is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. An expert in the field of vaccines, he is a recipient of many awards, including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics from the University of Maryland Medical School; the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Disease Society of America; and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. His books include the recent Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Visit his website at

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Word Nerd on March 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I spied this book at our local library and knew I had to read it. I am no stranger to the controversy regarding vaccination, as it is a frequently discussed topic in the homeschooling community. Our small group is split fairly evenly between those who never miss a recommended immunization and those who would never consider any type of immunization. Fortunately, amongst our group the disagreement is amicable. (One of the things I love about homeschool- independence is valued!)

I will freely admit that I am in the pro-vaccine court. I know that side effects- even death- are possible, but in weighing the potential damage from a vaccine and potential damage from disease....well, immunization seems the lesser of evils. I expect that those who choose differently go through the same painstaking inner dialogue, they just end up in a different place. I'm okay with that.

This book is also solidly pro-vaccine, but I think it does a pretty decent job of presenting the pros AND cons of the situation. There have been situations where vaccines were contaminated. There have been situations where vaccines were just a bad idea (live polio virus). And, there have been situations where disease has swept through unvaccinated communities at an alarming rate. Offit covers all this and more, without the intense fear mongering often found in this type of manuscript. A person so inclined could skip the commentary and just read the studies presented.

He does seem to be a bit harsh when speaking about those in the anti-vaccine movement. I can certainly grasp that he thinks they are making a mistake without the thinly veiled references to their moral character. He might garner more respect from that camp if he offered it up himself!

My verdict: Read it!
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252 of 328 people found the following review helpful By D. Simons on January 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The focus of Deadly Choices is on the history of the introduction of new vaccines and the anti-vaccine movements that tend to follow. Offit is a prominent virologist and he doesn't hide his scorn for some in the anti-vaccine movement. His book is unlikely to change the minds of anyone who is firmly within that movement, but I'm not sure what would. The book is a must read for anyone interested in a detailed, well-written, and thoroughly sourced discussion of the scientific basis of vaccines, the real and imagined risks of vaccination, and the consequences of the choices we make about vaccines.

The politics of the vaccine debate are powerful, and they often overshadow the substance. It's remarkable how many people managed to read and write "reviews" of this book within 2 days of its release on December 28. A few even managed to review the book before it was released! Given that few of these reviews mention anything about the book's contents, I suspect many of the reviewers, both positive and negative, have not read it.

I actually have read the book. Given that I had written about the vaccine/autism debate in the past (from the perspective of trying to understand the sorts of evidence people use when drawing causal conclusions), I requested and received a review copy of the book from the publisher 6 weeks before its publication.

Not surprisingly, the book thoroughly documents some of the unfounded claims that the anti-vaccine movement has made and explains the biological reasons why some of the perceived risks of vaccines either are not a risk or physiologically CAN'T be a risk. For example, many of the "green our vaccines" campaigns are based on the concern that there are nasty chemicals in vaccines, which is true.
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43 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Michael the Skeptic on March 14, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dr. Offit is one of the greatest scientists of our time. His rotavirus vaccine saves hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world–EVERY YEAR. Precious lives of children.

What Dr. Offit knows about vaccines and helping children live long healthy lives gives him the bona fides to write this book. He describes the how the world of the anti-vaxxers bows at the idols of pseudoscience.

He also describes the long history of the anti-vaccine movement, one that hasn't changed in a 100 years, despite the fact that probably 100 million lives, in the USA alone, have been saved by vaccines.

I'll be honest here. Although I have a long career in biomedical research, I never paid attention to the antivaccination cultists until I read this book the first time when it was first published, and again recently.

I know this book will not open the minds of those who already reject the overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. I know most of us who love the book already was convinced. But maybe one person will read this and decide to vaccinate their children. And for that, I think Paul Offit deserves our genuine appreciation.
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50 of 66 people found the following review helpful By SGM on April 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When I began reading this book I was of the opinion that parents should take a more active role in learning about and determining when their children should receive vaccines. After reading this book, I now feel that I have information that is necessary to making vaccination choices.
I was absolutely horrified when I found out what the diseases that we vaccinate against do to those who contract them. Having grown up without witnessing what measles, mumps, whooping cough, and others actually do to a persons body, I didn't feel overly concerned about altering the timeline for vaccination. Now, however, I realize that there is a reason to vaccinate children and to do it on schedule. But you don't have to take it from me, or Dr. Offit - this book discusses the extensive research that shows the history of vaccines and vaccine safety and enough information about that research to let you look it up on your own!
Whether you feel that you should vaccinate your children or not, you owe it to them to know the history of vaccines, what they can do, and what they can't do. If you think that vaccines should not be given, read this book so that you can hear another perspective (and know who and what you're fighting against). If you think that vaccines should be given, read this book so that you can better explain to others why you have that beliefs.
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