Much to my surprise and delight, my recent blog post about Jenny McCarthy’s  “educational” video was picked up by several other blogs and websites, resulting in a small flood of emails applauding my efforts to expose dangerous pseudoscience. I had braced myself for what I assumed would be an onslaught of hate mail (what else would irrational folks do about a sensible warning message?) and found that instead I received a small number of high-fives from advocates and health organizations committed to cutting through the rhetoric and providing accurate information about vaccines. Perhaps the hate is still in the mail?

I began wondering who is in the majority on the issue of vaccines – those who want to study concerns carefully and accept what the science shows, or those who are fixated on blaming vaccines for diseases they don’t cause, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Since the latter are louder than the former, one does tend to feel as if the world has gone a bit nutty. And when celebrities like Oprah Winfrey promote the unfounded anti-vaccine rhetoric of Jenny McCarthy, sensible parents across the country begin to shudder. But when will this shuddering lead to action?

Newsweek released an Oprah expose soon after my blog post was published. It was indeed very gratifying to see a major news outlet take Oprah to task for her irresponsible promotion of pseudoscience. Of course, it’s been years in the making – but I’m glad that someone “mainstream” finally said something.

My question is: will the complaining end there, or will the heretofore silent majority stand up to the nonsense that will put their own children at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases? What will it take to wake people up to the present dangers of the anti-vaccinationist movement? Perhaps a documentary about people who were injured or killed by the polio virus…
I also received an email today from a woman (Jan Nichols) who did not have the polio vaccine as a child. She and her twin brother were exposed to the virus in the 1950’s (just before the first vaccine was available). Her brother died three days later while she suffered lower extremity paralysis that lasted a few years.  Jan rarely spoke about her experiences until she read a magazine article explaining  that although polio has been eradicated in the United States, it still infects children in other countries, and some have estimated that it could cripple up to 10 million children by 2040 if not eradicated. She writes,

For many years, I had been under the false impression that polio had been essentially eradicated throughout the world. But, in 2003, a friend sent me the March 2003 edition of the “Rotarian” (the magazine for members of Rotary International). Her note to me was a simple one, “Jan, now you have to write your story.” She had always encouraged me to write, but I couldn’t tell the Flood Family’s story if its only purpose was to add one more polio memoir to the mix. This “Rotarian” pulled at my heart in a profound way. I was sickened to read that innocent children were still suffering from the killer and crippler.

I sat down with my husband, Dave, and told him that I wanted to write a book. As an orthopedic surgeon, Dave understands the lifetime impact of polio all too well. In fact, this saga of mine has sent him on his own quest. This past fall, he returned to school part-time to earn his Master’s in Public Health. Our son, Kevin, designed the website for the book and keeps it continually updated.

For four years, I’ve devoted nearly every day of my life to research and writing. Since the book was published in early fall 2007, I’ve devoted my time to “spreading the word” about polio and the need for eradication via presentations to students, civic groups, and service organizations. The book is a tool to reach people I can’t reach personally.

A magazine article was the turning point in Jan’s crusade against those who dissuade parents from giving their children life-saving vaccines. I hope that, by continuing to get the word out, Newsweek articles, and blogs like this one will ignite interest in protecting children everywhere.

As David Gorski says,

No one, and I mean no one, brings pseudoscience, quackery, and antivaccine madness to more people than Oprah Winfrey does every week.

If the silent majority would stand up against this false information, we might be able to eradicate the anti-vaccinationist virus – or at least provide a “herd immunity” against pseudoscience. I hope that people like Jan will continue to educate Americans about the dangers of preventable diseases that most have never seen or experienced. Because if we don’t listen to Jan, we may have to find out about these diseases first-hand.

Posted by Val Jones

Val Jones , M.D., is the President and CEO of Better Health, PLLC, a health education company devoted to providing scientifically accurate health information to consumers. Most recently she was the Senior Medical Director of Revolution Health, a consumer health portal with over 120 million page views per month in its network. Prior to her work with Revolution Health, Dr. Jones served as the founding editor of Clinical Nutrition & Obesity, a peer-reviewed e-section of the online Medscape medical journal. Dr. Jones is also a consultant for Elsevier Science, ensuring the medical accuracy of First Consult, a decision support tool for physicians.

Dr. Jones was the principal investigator of several clinical trials relating to sleep, diabetes and metabolism, and she won first place in the Peter Cyrus Rizzo III research competition.

Dr. Jones is the author of the popular blog, “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason,” which won The Best New Medical Blog award in 2007. Her cartoons have been featured at Medscape, the P&S Journal, and the Placebo Journal. She was inducted as a member of the National Press Club in Washington , DC in July, 2008.

Dr. Jones has been quoted by various major media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times. She has been a guest on over 20 different radio shows, and was featured on CBS News.