Friday, June 06, 2008

Book Review: The Vaccine Book, by Robert Sears.

It's not very often that I get to read a book that is sane, well-written, researched up and down, and amusing into the bargain. This was one. This man knows his audience.

There are twelve chapters to start with, one for each of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended vaccines. That list I will reproduce for you here, not counting multiple shots in a sequence (for example, the Hepatitus B vaccine has several shots recommended, but I'll only list the vaccine once):

1. Haemophilus Influenzae Type B Disease and the HIB vaccine.
2. Pneumococcal Disease and the Pc Vaccine.
3. Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis Diseases and the DTaP Vaccine.
4. Hepatitus B Disease and the Heb P Vaccine.
5. Rotavirus Disease and the Rotavirus Vaccine.
6. Polio Disease and the Polio Vaccine.
7. Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Diseases and the MMR Vaccine.
8. Chickenpox Disease and the Varicella Vaccine.
9. Hepatitus A Disease and the Hep A Vaccine.
10. Influenza Disease and the Flu Vaccine.
11. Meningococcal Disease and the Meningococcal Vaccine.
12. Human Papillomavirus Disease and the HPV Vaccine.

He then goes into several issues related to vaccines, including:

13. Combination Vaccines, Vaccines for Travel, and Vaccines for Other Special Situations.
14. Vaccine Safety Research.
15. Vaccine Side Effects.
16. Vaccine Ingredients.
17. Myths and Questions about Vaccines.
18. Parents Who Delay or Decline Vaccination.
19. What Should You Now Do?

What's interesting to me is how seriously he takes most sides. There are a few positions for which he has little patience. Here's one juicy quote:
...I've recorded the thoughtful and logical ones [parental responses] in this section of each chapter. (I've purposely left out any of the really, shall we say, "interesting" ideas. Although the inclusion of such interesting comments would be sure to entertain and amuse you - like the one about germs not really causing infections; they're just a normal and harmless part of our everyday existence, so the shots aren't needed to prevent them - some of them might just confuse the heck out of you, and this book is all about unconfusion.) [emphasis original]

He takes the concerns of parents seriously, especially when it comes to vaccine side effects, which he believes are not studied nearly enough. He does grant that it is extremely difficult to study vaccine side effects, because of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (after the fact, therefore because of the fact: this fallacy proposes the idea that because event B followed event A, it must be that event A caused event B). Moreover, children do not usually take just one vaccine at a time, and hence it is difficult to separate out the effects of just one vaccine. He also takes seriously the issue of vaccine ingredients. For him, I would definitely say that aluminum and mercury are the ingredients to which he pays the most attention. Thankfully, there's only about one brand (not the only brand) of one kind of vaccine that has anything more than a tiny trace amount of mercury in it. With respect to aluminum, he goes so far as to propose an alternative vaccine schedule that spaces the vaccines out, and never gives more than a certain amount of aluminum at a time. He's done lots of statistics, comparing the risk of a vaccine side effect versus the risk of the disease, and comparing the severity of the two.

He's obviously done tons of research, as evidenced by a copious bibliography. He's read the anti-vaccine books, and he's read the product inserts of the vaccines themselves. He's read the medical research papers. He's collected a large number of parental comments, and he has ten years of pediatric experience himself.

All in all, I'd say this is the balanced, scientific viewpoint (and we are talking here about scientific questions) that is most helpful for the discussion. Perhaps msot helpfully, he doesn't come right and say you should do this or that. He gives you the information, and gives you his own opinion. He knows that the final decision is up to the parents.

Highly recommended!

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