Vaccine scientist and advocate Dr. Paul Offit receives a much-deserved award

Things have been busy lately, and last weekend, between writing up something for my not-so-super-secret other blog and not having any material, either new or recyclable, for this blog, I feared that the beginning of another week would pass without new Insolence. Well, I don’t have any new Insolence for you, but fortunately something happened over the weekend that allows me to do something happier than the usual deconstruction of pseudoscience and quackery. A friend, vaccine scientist who’s actually contributed a new vaccine to the world, and staunch advocate of children’s health, in particular vaccination programs, which do more to keep children healthy than arguably any other medical intervention, received a much-deserved award:

The Sabin Vaccine Institute has awarded Paul Offit, MD, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the 2018 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal. Sabin recognized Dr. Offit as co-inventor of an oral rotavirus vaccine and for his leadership as one of the United States’ most vocal and dedicated advocates for immunization.

“Paul’s contributions as a vaccinologist and advocate have improved the health of children in every corner of the world,” said Amy Finan, CEO of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “His scientific accomplishments are rivaled only by his impact as a dedicated advocate for immunization. Paul truly exemplifies Albert Sabin’s commitment to ensuring every child is protected from preventable disease.”

There’s no doubt that Dr. Offit richly deserves it. Not only was he co-inventor of RotaTeq®, an oral vaccine that prevents rotavirus-caused diarrhea, the most common cause of hospitalizations and deaths among children worldwide due to diahrreal diseases, but he’s been a tireless advocate for promoting the immunization of children to prevent deadly diseases. As a result, he has been a frequent target of antivaccine fanatics, some of whom, typical of frequently violent antivaccine rhetoric, have made death threats. Other examples that fall below the level of a death threat (but are disturbing nonetheless) abound, although one, I must admit, was rather funny for how it so utterly embarrassed J.B. Handley.. For instance, antivaccine macher as J.B. Handley once implied that Dr. Offit slipped a journalist a date rape drug to persuade her to write a pro-vaccine story. Another example occurred when the grande dame of the antivaccine movement, Barbara Loe Fisher, sued Dr. Offit (and journalist Amy Wallace and her publisher Condé Nast) for libel. She was, not surprisingly, unsuccessful. Similarly, J.B. Handley also sued Dr. Offit. The harassment can even be as petty as being ambushed in the cafeteria of NYU Langone Medical Center while waiting to give a talk at a vaccine conference and videotaped becoming angry about it to having creepy antivaccine kooks like Jake Crosby stalking him at various talks. Not surprisingly, Jake is not pleased with Offit’s receiving this award, repeating the same misinformation about Dr. Offit that he’s done all along.

Jake was particularly displeased by this part of Dr. Offit’s acceptance speech:

“The Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal is not an award only to me, but to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, specifically to Drs. Stan Plotkin and Fred Clark, mentors and friends who taught me how to make a vaccine and how to use my expertise to advocate for children,” said Dr. Offit. He added, “Advocacy becomes all the more important as we live in a world where scientific illiteracy is being replaced by scientific denialism. Now, more than ever before, it’s time for scientists to stand up and explain what they do and why they do it to the public and the media. Science is a privilege, not a right. And it’s the taxpayer, the voter, who grants us that privilege.”

I can’t argue with a single word. Sadly, though, Jake remains upset that Dr. Offit once called him a “stalker.” Having myself met Jake, who showed up at a DC-area talk I gave around five years ago, I can only say that Dr. Offit’s assessment of Jake was, if anything, far too kind. The dude was seriously creepy in person. Of course, Dr. Offit has always been far less…Insolent…than I.

So, let me take this moment to offer my sincere congratulations to Dr. Offit, whom I consider a friend and someone I admire. This award is richly deserved. May you continue to drive antivaxers into paroxysms of rage and insanity through your unwavering science advocacy. for years to come. I, for my part, will look to your example to do the same in my own little way.