Open letters with signatories: Will they help counter the antivaccine movement?

As a “prominent” (as hard as I find it that anyone would apply the word to me) blogger about the anti-vaccine movement, somehow I ended up on the Every Child By Two mailing list. ECBT, as you may recall, is the organization founded by former First Lady Rosalyn Carter and former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers to promote vaccination against childhood diseases. It’s a fine organization, and a much delayed counterweight to antivaccine propaganda mills like Age of Autism, Generation Rescue, the National Vaccine Information Center, and the up and coming antivaccine doctors’ website Medical Voices Vaccine Information Center (whose utter lunacy I wrote about recently).

Being on that mailing list, I received a press release from EBCT about an open letter in support of vaccines. Some key points:

We, the undersigned, support immunizations as the safest, most effective way to control and eradicate infectious diseases. This August, as another National Immunization Awareness Month comes to a close, we are reminded that diseases such as smallpox and polio were once commonplace in the United States. Thanks to vaccinations, we have not seen or experienced many of the infectious diseases that gripped past generations, but other countries have not been so fortunate and outbreaks continue in the United States.

As we approach the 30th anniversaries of global smallpox eradication and the last polio case reported in the United States, new infectious diseases, such as novel H1N1 influenza, are emerging and others continue to strike the unprotected. This should remind us of the continuing importance of timely immunizations. Our strong immunization infrastructure will ensure our ability to meet the challenges presented by these diseases, but Americans have to do their part by getting themselves and their loved ones vaccinated.

Childhood and adult infectious diseases pose a real threat to personal and public health. Those who are not vaccinated leave not only themselves, but others vulnerable to dangerous diseases. Vaccines are the most effective option for preventing and stopping the spread of infectious diseases.

My first thought was this: August is Immunization Awareness Month? I had no idea, and the month is more than half over. You’d think that, as a blogger who is well known in the medical blogosphere for regularly combatting the lies of the anti-vaccine movement, shouldn’t I have heard of it? Was it my fault that I didn’t, or is the problem that there needs to be a better publicity campaign. A little e-mail notification at the end of July would have certainly primed me to blog about Immunization Awareness Month, but instead I don’t find out about it until the month is nearly two thirds over.

Think about it. The antivaccine movement, particularly the part of it that fervently believes that vaccines cause autism, has nearly completely coopted Autism Awareness Month (April). Every year since I started paying attention, I dread April 1, not because someone might be playing an April Fools’ Day joke on me but rather because I know that Jenny McCarthy, with or without her boyfriend Jim Carrey, and aided and abetted by J.B. Handley and the rest of the anti-vaccine movement, will be hitting the airwaves pushing the myth that vaccines cause autism. I can almost count on an appearance on or about every April 1 on Larry King Live, so much so that I even warned about it this year. In contrast, attempts to combat this fear mongering message of pseudoscience and alarmism seem clumsy and ineffective by comparison.

Overall, though, I like the message of the letter. It reemphasizes that vaccines are the safest and most effective means of combatting infectious disease. It points out that the diseases being vaccinated against have not been eradicated and that letting vaccination rates fall risks letting them return, especially Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib):

Immunization has nearly eliminated a major cause of childhood meningitis, Haemophilus influenzae type b, everywhere the vaccine is used. Before the vaccine became available, 20,000 cases of the disease were reported and nearly 600 died each year in the United States. Unfortunately, cases of this deadly disease are resurfacing in the United States due to lower vaccination rates.

Indeed they are. Indeed they are.

That’s why, inept PR or not, I urge everyone to visit ECBT and sign on to the letter. The more the merrier. I realize that such letters are frequently abused by denialists, such as creationists and AGW “skeptics,” but It’s sad that such an effort is even needed, but unfortunately the anti-vaccine movement has Hollywood on its side, as well as credulous “tell both sides” (or even “tell only one side, namely the wrong side”) reporters. ECBT is a belated effort to combat this. I realize that ECBT was formed in 1991, but its visibility was, at least to this blogger, nonexistent until Amanda Peet signed on as its spokesperson last year. It needs all the help it can get.

Indeed, that’s why I ask you to consider donating to ECBT. Now, if ECBT would only step into the 21st century and sign up with PayPal or come up with some sort of online donation system rather than asking you to print out a form and mail a check. It’s yet another symptom of how far behind the curve “our side” is when it comes to the PR war. Again, the forces trying to combat the Age of Endarkenment with respect to vaccines need all the help they can get.