Journalist's Vaccine Article Draws Hate Mail



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Journalist Amy Wallace's article in the November issue of Wired Magazine about the passionate, and sometimes angry, debate over whether vaccines cause autism drew some vitriolic response.

"I've heard a lot of anger. I've heard that I'm stupid. I've heard that I'm greedy. I've heard that I did this to get famous," Wallace tells NPR's Melissa Block. "I've heard that I'm a whore, I'm a prostitute."

Wallace's article, An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, profiles pediatrician Paul Offit, who invented the vaccine for rotavirus and is a lightning rod for criticism in the anti-vaccination community. In his book, Autism's False Prophets, last year, Offit said any risks of vaccination are dwarfed by the risks of childhood diseases.

"We, at Wired, wanted to use a profile of him as a way into a broader issue, which is vaccine panic, which is not just an American problem — it's a global issue," Wallace says. "And ... educated people are afraid. ... Even people who do vaccinate are worried about the impacts on their children."

Wallace says vaccines have done such a good job of removing the visible threat of diseases such as whooping cough or measles that some people see vaccination as a greater risk than childhood disease. Because of that, she says, many educated people in parts of the U.S. have decided not to vaccinate their children.

This has "left whole pockets of the community very wide open to an outbreak of illness," she says.

Wallace calls part of the discourse that has followed her article "a bullying tactic." She points to JB Handley, founder of Generation Rescue — which contends that too many vaccines are given too soon and blames autism on vaccines — for many attacks against her in the blogosphere. She says such tactics dissuade many scientists from taking a stand in the debate. It is important to speak out against those tactics, she says, adding that she has been commenting regularly about the issue on Twitter.

"There are some things in life that are true, and I think the debate needs to be civil," Wallace says. "That's part of what I've been trying to participate in — a civil discussion of these issues."

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