Anthropologist and geneticist Jennifer Raff is worried about recent outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and the lack of accountability of anti-vaccine advocates.  In a passionate open letter, she writes on her blog:

Dear parents,

You are being lied to. The people who claim to be acting in the best interests of your children are putting their health and even lives at risk.

They say that measles isn’t a deadly disease.

But it is.

They say that chickenpox isn’t that big of a deal.
But it can be.

They say that the flu isn’t dangerous.
But it is.

They say that whooping cough isn’t so bad for kids to get.
But it is.

They say that vaccines aren’t that effective at preventing disease.
But 3 million children’s lives are saved every year by vaccination, and 2 million die every year from vaccine-preventable illnesses.

They say that “natural infection” is better than vaccination.
But they’re wrong.


But Dr. Raff isn’t done.  With each point she makes, she links to credible, authoritative sites to make her case.

Vaccines are safe.  Check.

MMR and/or thimerosal cause autism?  Nope.

Aluminum in vaccines is harmful?  Again, no.

The vaccine schedule is too much for a baby’s young immune system?  Nice try.

Dr. Raff then makes this basic point (which drives pediatricians crazy):

They say that if other people’s children are vaccinated, there’s no need for their children to get vaccinated.

This is one of the most despicable arguments I’ve ever heard. First of all, vaccines aren’t always 100% effective, so it is possible for a vaccinated child to still become infected if exposed to a disease. Worse, there are some people who can’t receive vaccinations, because they are immune deficient, or because they are allergic to some component. Those people depend upon herd immunity to protect them. People who choose not to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases are putting not only their own children at risk, but also other people’s children.


She tells anti-vaccine activists to educate themselves by learning to read the scientific literature.  She doubts this will happen, so she focuses her attention on parents instead:

You owe it to your children, and to yourself, to thoroughly investigate the issue. Don’t rely on what some stranger on the internet says (not even me!). Read the scientific studies that I linked to in this post for yourself, and talk to your pediatricians. Despite what the anti-vaccine community is telling you, you don’t need to be afraid of the vaccines. You should instead be afraid of what happens without them.


Who’s lying?  James Hamblin, M.D. is looking right at Jenny McCarthy:

Really, though; an argument with Jenny McCarthy over consistency has no winners. Vaccines are safe, and widespread vaccination programs are definitely good for public health. Writers at Slate, Time, and other places already exhaustively rebuked McCarthy for backpedaling and hypocrisy in this column. It’s a lot of fun to catch someone contradicting herself, but the old statements are in the past. Jenny McCarthy really isn’t the enemy; the misinformation she spread is. As long as she ends up on the side of the discussion that leads to the fewest outbreaks of mumps—the discussion which most doctors agree shouldn’t even be happening, and diseases that definitely shouldn’t—fine.

Except they are, and it is.


Frank Bruni piles on here.

Please read the rest of Jennifer Raff’s open letter to parents here.

(Back Pat: Lynn Hurdle)