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Feature Public Health

Vaccine disputes

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 22 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2435

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Rebecca Coombes, journalist
  1. 1London
  1. rcoombes{at}

As the BMA debates mandatory MMR vaccination to help stem the rising number of measles cases in the UK, Rebecca Coombes investigates the anti-MMR lobby in the UK and US

In 2008, paediatrician Paul Offit had a book published—not exactly uncommon for a doctor near the top of his specialty. But the situation was complicated for Dr Offit. As chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he is the most prominent—and some would say most fearless—spokesperson for vaccine science and safety in the United States today. His book Autism’s False Prophets (see Review of the Week, BMJ 2009;338:b2537, doi:10.1136/bmj.b2537), deals with the false alarm that vaccines cause autism and how antivaccine activists, and an easily duped media, are sowing the seeds of a health scare similar to, if not worse than, the one that the UK is just recovering from. So inflammatory is this issue that Dr Offit opted out of the big city publicity tour that is usual for most authors.

“I do radio and television but not appearances in book stores. I’ve had a few incidences where I get heckled by people who disagree with me strongly, almost religiously, and disrupt my capacity to express my point of view,” he explains. He also receives a lot of hate mail—after one credible death threat, he was accompanied at official meetings by an armed guard.

The health scare linking the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism is more than a decade old. A large body of evidence has built up to discredit the decade old Lancet paper that linked the measles virus with irritable bowel syndrome and autism.1 This includes a 2005 Cochrane systematic review of 139 studies to assess the effects of the MMR vaccine in children, and …

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