Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Vaccine Book: A Review

So, as I mentioned previously, I received a request from the publisher to review The Vaccine Book by Dr. Robert Sears (son of the original Dr. William Sears, co-author of The Baby Book, who pioneered attachment parenting and is therefore both beloved by millions and reviled by millions, depending on whom you talk to).

Now, I don't normally do solicited product reviews here. It's not that I think solicited product reviews are bad (Unless of course you're getting paid to say only nice things in your supposedly objective review, in which case, I say, shame on you. Go Directly to Blog Jail. Do not collect $200.) I actually enjoy reading product reviews on other people's blogs and websites, if I'm interested in the product and I know the review is legit. For instance, I love Cool Mom Picks so much I want to marry it.*

It's more that, when I'm writing here, I am much more interested in writing epic navel-gazing posts about my myriad failures as a mother, deep thoughts about kids jumping in piles of leaves (and, more recently, wonkish political polemics!) than I am in writing posts about umbrella strollers or whitening toothpaste. What can I say? As an internet marketing writer, I basically write descriptions of products all the time for my paid job. Here on the blog, I'm on product description vacation.

But book reviews are another matter entirely. I love books. I love to write about books. I love to write about books so much that I spent my entire college career reading books and writing about books and in fact practically living in books, even though many people advised me to study something more profitable. Like, say, how to genetically engineer bacteria to glow in the dark,** or something like that.

(Do you hear that, book publishers? Send me more books. I'll review them. You do not have to pay me. In fact, I will not accept payment. Though, it might take me two months to get to it. And I certainly don't promise to be as nice as I'm going to be in this one. I like this book, but I might not like yours.)

And since I also love learning about biology, and I'm obsessed with being an informed patient and parent, The Vaccine Book was really right down my alley.

So, on to my review:

Review of The Vaccine Book By Dr. Robert Sears:

In the Preface, Dr. Sears says, "It is my goal to give you the pros and cons of vaccination so that you can make an educated decision." And that is exactly what this book does. I think parents and doctors on both sides of the vaccine controversy, as well as those who are confused or undecided, will find this book truly helpful.

The author admits a pro-vaccine bias from the get-go. He states clearly that he believes the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. And yet, he also makes it clear that he does not consider parents who are against vaccinating their children to be irresponsible, ignorant, or crazy.

On the contrary, he takes pains to point out that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children need a good relationship with an understanding doctor even more than parents who do choose to vaccinate, because if their children do catch, say, mumps or something, they'll need an understanding doctor to provide good care. And he comes out strongly against the growing practice among pediatricians of dropping patients who refuse to vaccinate. He even offers some good information on wrangling with the legal issues involved in choosing not to vaccinate your kids.

And for parents who believe delayed vaccination is the way to go, he presents a delayed vaccination schedule that focuses on those vaccines he believes to be the most important according to his extensive research.

The book does an excellent job bringing together important information on each of the major childhood vaccines from a variety of sources, all of which are clearly cited. Sears describes the illnesses each vaccine is meant to prevent, giving detailed information on symptoms, severity, and the possibility of long-term effects, and estimates the likelihood of an unvaccinated child catching each disease. He then explicitly describes how each vaccine is made, and gives a detailed ingredient list, as well as a detailed description of possible side effects.

For a healthcare-information-addict such as myself, these sections were a delight to read. I have never before seen in one place so much clear information on what goes into the vaccines we put into our kids. I found myself wishing very much that this book had been around when my own son was a baby.

I remember very vividly sitting in the doctor's office those first few times my tiny baby had to have a shot, staring at the brief, not-so-informative list of potential side effects some nurse always handed me (which was always, for some reason, printed on some sort of bright, cheerily colored paper with drawings of smiling children at the top), and wondering, very nervously, "What is in this shot? Why does it cause these effects in some children? Which of these effects is really normal, and which is really a sign of something serious?" And no one ever seemed to be willing and able to answer my questions to my satisfaction during a fifteen-minute doctor's visit. But this book does.

Toward the end the book veers toward some rather scary speculation about possible risks associated with the use of aluminum in vaccines. It's an odd shift in tone for a book that starts out pro-vaccine, and it makes me wonder if the Good Doctor himself started to question his own vaccine stance halfway through. I'm mostly pro-vaccine myself, but this information on aluminum kind of freaked me out. I'm glad he pointed out the need for further study on this subject, but, still, I kind of wish he had been able to get some more concrete information for the book regarding the risks of alumninum before it went to press.

Overall, I think this book is worth buying for any parent who is interested in learning more about vaccines. I think it presents a mostly balanced and respectful view of the vaccine controversy, and it offers a lot of valuable information on vaccines in a format that is easy to read.


*And Kristen did propose to me one time over email. For realz. Although now what with her being a Clintonista and me being an Obamamaniac, I guess we're kind of like Montagues and Capulets. But I would still totally hit that. I mean, come on. Who wouldn't?

**Okay, so I actually did genetically engineer some bacteria this one time. But I really don't remember how to do it anymore.


Mom101 said...

I'm actually really glad to hear there's an objective book out there about this. I'm one of those "so confused I don't know what to think" people at this point.

(psst, Cool Mom Picks wants to marry you back)

Debbie said...

CMP is gonna have to get in LINE.

's all I'm saying.

p.s. I think your brain deserves a monument.

I've said that before, though, I think, and I don't care. I repeat myself all the time. So what? I repeat myself all the time.

Kim said...

Timely review. Just today there was a news story about a couple in Georgia who are receiving a payment from the federal government because vaccines may or may not have exacerbated an underlying condition which led to their child's autism. However, the government maintains this is no proof that there is a link.