edh's Reviews > The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin
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's review
Apr 28, 11

bookshelves: adult, nonfiction
Read in February, 2011

Mnookin's The Panic Virus is an amazing investigation into the culture of vaccinations, and the deadly effects of those too selfish and shortsighted to see how their choices affect others. Stories of young infants too young to yet receive vaccinations die because of young carriers whose parents have decided to "opt out," citing herd immunity as a justification for letting their offspring go unvaccinated. Cases such as this are only growing as more and more families are gripped by the powerful fear that somehow their children will "catch" autism or other afflictions due to vaccines. Mnookin cites one parent: "...[B]ecause I live in a country where the norm is vaccine, I can delay my vaccines."

It's not just celebrities like Jenny McCarthy who stoke the fears of parents -- Bizarre tales of amateur so-called scientists who experiment in their basements and claim that vaccines cause autism are equally to blame. Cognitive dissonance sets in among those who don't know what "study" to believe, who hear horror stories and urban myths of children becoming unresponsive vegetables immediately following their vaccinations. Perhaps the most reprehensible villains of Mnookin's narrative are the ones taking advantage of "Big Autism," who hawk supposed cures, therapies, diets, and other treatments to desperate parents and have turned vaccination into a cultural debate that would be unrecognizable to those who lived through the polio epidemic. Even the Wakefield paper, which caused the physician in question to lose his license in the UK, was rooted in Dr. Wakefield's pecuniary interests: he was being paid to examine kids "as part of a lawsuit that was being prepared against drug manufacturers." He had also filed his own patent for a vaccine that would compete with the existing MMR. Yeah, no bias there.

It's a well-written book that looks critically at the massive vaccine spin machine, and pulls at the heart with touching stories of those who have been caught in the culture war over vaccination. Well worth the read... and if I ever have a kid, I'll remember little baby Danielle, who died because another family decided vaccines were "too dangerous" for their children, and who helped destroy the herd immunity that would have kept her alive to receive her own vaccines.
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