Section on the History of Medicine: Vaccine: The Modern American Debate

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM
The New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
New York, NY 10029

Speaker: Mark A. Largent, Ph.D.

Time: Light refreshments at 5:30 p.m., Lecture at 6:00 p.m.

Over the last two decades, American parents have become increasingly concerned about the possible side efects of the many vaccines they are legally compelled to provide for their children.  A scientific debate about the issue emerged in the late 1990s and was quickly settled within the medical community.  Nonetheless, parents' fears persist, and today nearly 40% of American parents have refused or delayed at least one routine vaccination for their children.  Concerns that vaccines might cause autism are commonly cited by parents, but scientists and physicians have stridently rejected any connection.  The vaccine-autism debate is a proxy debate.  Behind it loom a number of serious and sometimes intractable problems with modern vaccination schedules.  The medical community has been unwilling or unable to address the underlying concerns that animate parents' fears, and many parents have seized on the claim that vaccines cause autism because it reflects many of their anxieties.  This talk will describe the emergence of the modern American vaccine debate and uncover some of the concerns that animate parents' anxieties about vaccines.

Mark Largent is a historian of science and medicine and director of the Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy Specialization (STEPPS) in James Madison College at Michigan State University.  His research and teaching focuses on the role of scientists and physicians in American public policy.  He has written on the evolution-creation debate, the professionalization of American biology, Darwinism, the history of the American eugenics movement and recent debates over compulsory vaccination.  He is the author of Breeding Contempt: The History of Coreced Sterilizatioin in the United States (2008) and Vaccine: The Modern American Debate (2012) and is currently writing a history of Reye's Syndrome.

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