Monday, November 1, 2010

Vaccine Awareness Week: Getting the Word Out

Thanks to the efforts of Joe Mercola and Barbara Loe Fisher, today, November 1, 2010, marks the beginning of Vaccine Awareness Week! In case you missed National Immunization Awareness Month back in August, our lovely anti-vaccine pro-safe vaccine crusaders have given us another week!

I am joining a number of bloggers, including Orac at Respectful Insolence, the lovely folks at Science-Based Medicine, Dr. Steven Novella of NeuroLogica and The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe fame, among others, to get the word out about vaccines.

All this week, folks around the skeptical blogosphere will be posting some reality-based facts about vaccines and countering the distortions, misinformation and occasional bald-faced lies that Mercola, Fisher and their cohorts are likely to publish.

I thought I'd start out with how you can get involved in spreading reason, sanity and truth about vaccines.

First up: Flyers! Every now and then, perhaps you notice folks lingering around subway entrances or busy public squares, sheets of colorful paper in their hands that they hand out to passersby and you think, "Hey! I can do that!" Well, here's your chance. The CDC has a wide range of vaccine flyers that are brief, easy to read and give people some basic facts about vaccines. Take a look, pick one or two (or design your own) and head down to your local copy shop. Then, stack o' reality in hand, get your hawker schtick together and hit the pavement. Great for the college types between classes!

Next: Chatting! To bring up the topic of vaccines, there are quite a number of recent news items, for example, the pertussis outbreak in California that, as of Oct. 19, has resulted in almost 6,000 cases and 10 deaths (PDF). Pertussis is a pretty good topic to bring up, since many adults don't realize that whether they were immunized as a child or had pertussis, their immunity has most likely waned by now. Talking about these subjects with your family and friends can help get people thinking about immunizations, as well as elicit their thoughts on vaccines in general. If you find that someone is a bit, shall we say, hesitant about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, ask them why they feel that way. Politely present them with some truth and point them to where they can find out more information that might change their mind. Just don't be a confrontational jerk about it. Teach, don't preach.

Third: Social Media! Unless you have remained sane and shunned the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Skype and so on, chances are, you've got means of communication that don't involve face-to-face conversation (don't forget e-mail). Geek out and use them to provide brief, one-bite doses of rationality. Change your status. Send a tweet. For those on Twitter, use the hashtag #vaxfax to join the fun.

Lastly: Blogs! If you have a blog of your own, spread the word your own way. Put up some posts about common misunderstandings about vaccines. If you're feeling feisty (and can brave the insanity and insults), pay a visit to Joe Mercola's site, Barbara Loe Fisher's Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center or her blog Vaccine Awakening, Generation Rescue's Age of Autism blog, Dr. Jay Gordon's site or any number of other anti-vaccine web sites, then write up a post showing where they are mistaken or distort the truth. Hint: links to actual research (e.g., from PubMed) are a good idea.

I'm sure there are things I've missed, so be creative. Above all, though, stick to the facts, be polite and have fun.

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