panicThis Tuesday evening, I’m joining Seth Mnookin at Town Hall in Seattle to discuss vaccines, modern parenthood, and (mis)information about vaccinations online. Although you may know Seth Mnookin secondary to his crucial role in the Boston Marathon Bombings story this past week, at his other day job he’s the co-director of the graduate program in science writing at MIT. He’ll be here in Seattle because he is also the author of a powerful book, Panic Virus, that details the history of vaccine hesitancy in the US.

A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear.

Although the book sits on the nonfiction shelf, it reads like a thriller. Think Contagion meets John le Carre´.  I’m not exaggerating here: when I first read the book 2 years ago, I pulled a near-all-nighter because I couldn’t put it down. I don’t think that’s because I’m a pediatrician, I believe I couldn’t put it down because I’m a mom.

I met Seth nearly 2 years ago and he signed my scribbled-in copy of his extraordinary book. Panic Virus changed my understanding of vaccine hesitancy. There are parts of the book that caused my stomach to drop and certainly parts of the book that made me worry.

Seth nit picks science, propaganda, fear, and myth with rollercoaster storytelling. One gestalt occurred when I stumbled upon a footnote. I’d reread a paragraph on page 156-7 four times trying to understand it (it was about physics). It was the footnote that finally put me at ease:

For most of us, understanding special relativity is a little like true love: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment.

Seth puts vaccine science, history, story and fear in arm’s reach.

Seth’s writing coupled with his fastidious attention to fact and detail (there’s 97 pages of notes at the end) enhanced my determination to provide transparency with what we do know and what we don’t know when it comes to vaccine science and safety. It was far easier for me to understand why parents got concerned about vaccine safety after reading Panic Virus.

Seth solidified my ongoing efforts to share what I learn as a pediatrician and mom online.

Seth will read from his book and I’ll detail information I’ve experienced while listening and creating content for parents and pediatricians online when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. I’ll share what it’s been like to write blog posts about shots and vaccine safety as a mom and pediatrician and I’ll share thoughts on hesitancy in general.

Seth told me the main motivation for writing Panic Virus stemmed out of his experience as a new father. One day his feet were planted at a Brooklyn park, surrounded by well-educated, thoughtful parents who were choosing to delay their children’s vaccinations. He couldn’t get a handle on why they were going against the advice of pediatricians. As a science historian and journalist he set to determine rationale behind pervasive doubt.

Some 300 pages later Seth details the history of vaccine hesitancy and the controversial episodes in American life including propaganda from Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, the propulsion of Oprah, and organizations all over the US urging parents to reject public health officials and pediatricians’ advice for immunizations.

Spoiler alert: after detailing the science and stories of the last century, Seth comes out on the side of science, and on the side of on-time vaccines. Like me, Seth immunizes his children on time.

Seth and I will discuss the vaccine dialogue, propagation of myth, and online resources for vaccine information. It’s been clear to me for years that the on and offline networks we tactfully influence our understanding of the world and satisfy our hunger for what is right.

What we hear at the park or on Facebook from our friends really may change our decisions regarding the clothes we buy or the food we eat or the vaccinations we give our children.

For more, join us on Tuesday. For $5 tickets, and to register go here.