In an attempt to promote childhood vaccines, a movie star and a prominent scientist have teamed up. They are going about reassuring the US public that childhood vaccines are safe and do not cause autism.
Amanda Peet, who starred in films including The X-Files: I Want To Believe
is working with Paul Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to counter the assault on vaccines by other Hollywood celebrities.
These stars, along with several advocacy groups, contend that "toxins" in vaccines can cause children to develop immune-system problems and autism. More than a dozen large scientific studies, however, have found no connection between vaccines and autism.
Peet told John Hamilton of NPR radio that she began to investigate the safety of vaccines a couple of years ago, when she was pregnant. She says friends were urging her not to get her child vaccinated.
But her sister, who is a doctor, helped her get in touch with Offit, who had very different advice.
Peet says she was bewildered and frustrated by "the disparity between what I was hearing from other moms here in Hollywood and what I was hearing from the doctors."
After her baby was born in early 2007, she decided to speak out publicly. Since then, she's been advocating vaccination through interviews, talk show appearances, and public service announcements.
But Peet says parents shouldn't look to her as a scientific expert. She defers scientific questions to Offit, who directs the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital.
Offit has plenty to say to people who question the safety of vaccines for things like measles, hepatitis and the flu. He's put much of it in a book called Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure.
Offit says the money and time spent showing that vaccines don't cause autism could have been used to help figure out what does cause the disease. And he says parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated are allowing a resurgence of preventable diseases.
Offit notes that this year there have been 135 cases of measles in the United States - the highest number in more than a decade. Most of the cases were children, he says, "and most of those children's parents chose not to vaccinate them, chose not to vaccinate them because they feared the MMR vaccine would cause autism, when clearly it doesn't."
But then he's also the co-inventor of a vaccine against rotavirus, an intestinal bug that kills hundreds of thousands of children each year in developing nations. Vaccine critics say this means he can't be trusted on questions of vaccine safety.