Why Dr. Offit is the Coolest Scientist I Know
Jun 03, 2014

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Dr. Paul A. Offit, MD on many occasions. In getting to know him over the past four years I’ve come to the conclusion that he is, hands down, one of the coolest scientist I know.  So last night, after hearing his latest interview excerpt on Comedy Central, I made a short countdown of the top five reasons why I admire Dr. Offit.  

Reason #5:  He gets it. And better yet, he can explain it.  

pauloffitWhen I first met Dr. Offit he was speaking at the official launch of his book, Deadly Choices, in Washington, DC.  He stood at the podium and casually answered a variety of questions from a curious audience.  In addition to being a world-renowned expert in the field of vaccines and epidemiology, I immediately recognized that he is also adept at communicating complex scientific information in a way that any lay person can comprehend.  As the Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he continues to work directly with patients and their families, some of whom are hesitant or even fearful of vaccines, which is what makes him so effective at addressing their concerns.  This is perhaps one of the leading reasons he is featured in countless interviews and videos that address everything from the most common questions people ask about vaccines, to details about current immunization related research, recommendations, and disease outbreaks.   

Helping people to understand the importance of vaccines is very cool, but doing it so effortlessly is even cooler.   

Reason #4:  He just keeps going and going and he doesn’t back down.

energizer bunnyI once wrote a blog post in which I referred to Dr. Offit as an Energizer bunny because of his extensive career accomplishments and his continuing commitment to educate people about the risks and benefits of vaccines and the diseases they prevent.  One of his most notable achievements has been as co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine which is recommended for universal use in infants to prevent the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in infants and young children. Each year, rotavirus causes more than 450,000 deaths in children under five and is responsible for millions of hospitalizations and clinic visits. Despite all his contributions to save the lives of children worldwide, there are some people who continue to spread lies and perpetuate myths about Dr. Offit, likely because they are threatened by his expertise.  Years of repeated threats, nasty comments and relentless criticism never stops Dr. Offit from speaking out in every forum possible in an effort to save lives, and that is something we all should admire.

Denying scientific evidence and putting children at risk of suffering or death is not cool, but being the co-inventor of a vaccine that has been attributed to saving the lives of millions of children is way cool.

Reason #3:  He is generous with his time and money.

deadlychoicesDr. Offit is very committed to helping people understand the value of vaccines.  He not only serves on various scientific advisory boards where he volunteers his time to ensure that accurate information is being disseminated about vaccines, he also offers special webinars to ensure other medical professionals understand the impact of current immunization research, the decisions of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and more. He gives generously to various immunization related organizations and has even donated the proceeds of his books to organizations like the Autism Science Foundation

Some people think it’s cool to have an abundance of time and money.  What is truly cool is giving freely of both your time and money, regardless of how much you have of each. 

Reason #2:  He has a genuine desire to teach others in order to save lives.

CHOPDr. Offit is an educator in the true sense of the word.  One would expect as much from a “Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology” and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. As Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, his teaching goes beyond the typical classroom.  Additionally, he has offered free  vaccine courses as a professor with Coursera, which has enabled thousands of people to gain insight into the science behind vaccines.  Recently he offered to serve as both an interviewee and an expert reviewer for a group of high school students who produced an independent vaccine documentary entitled Invisible Threat

While I could list countless examples of ways Dr. Offit is devoted to educating others about vaccines, one personal example I can share really highlights his genuine nature.  A group of parents I came to know through a small closed Facebook group would frequently discuss questions and concerns they had about vaccines and Dr. Offit’s work was often mentioned.  When it was decided to approach Dr. Offit about the possibly of taking part in a conference call with this group of passionate parents, he enthusiastically accepted the invitation.  I can honestly say that he was genuinely as excited about speaking to the parents as they were to be speaking to someone with such tremendous expertise.

While it’s cool to be a subject matter expert, graciously giving of your personal time to talk freely about vaccines with a small group of concerned parents is the ultimate definition of cool.   

And the number one reason Dr. Offit is the coolest scientist I know is because he’s got a great sense of humor.

offitonColbertIn February, 2011 Dr. Offit first appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.  While discussing vaccine preventable diseases can be extremely serious, Dr. Offit responded to Colbert’s unique comic style with poise, clarity and a bit of lighthearted fun. When he appeared on the Colbert Report again, back in April, 2014, it was clear that Dr. Offit enjoyed Colbert’s efforts to use humor to communicate serious concerns and risks that exists when people choose not to vaccinate.  And just yesterday, when Dr. Offit was featured in a special segment by Samantha Bee on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he was able to reach a new audience in a unique and clever way, something that is critically needed in a time when vaccine refusal is threatening the health of our communities.

I think you’ll agree that this clip exemplifies Dr. Offit as someone who appreciates infectious humor.   Now that’s pretty cool! 





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29 responses to “Why Dr. Offit is the Coolest Scientist I Know”

  1. reissd says:

    I know that as a lay person Dr. Offit’s materials, courses, lectures etc’ were invaluable to me in understanding many issues related to vaccines and answering the many questions I have. As you point out, his generosity with his time is amazing.

  2. Paul Shapiro says:

    Dr Profit ought to be ashamed of himself!!!!

    • reissd says:

      In my world, saving children’s lives and speaking up to protect their health are matters of pride, not shame. Dr. Offit stands up for children, at high personal cost. It’s admirable.

  3. Kathy says:

    My oldest daughter who, in 2004, was not vaccinated for rotavirus, got two rounds of rota as a toddler. Here is my story. This was printed in my county health department newsletter, this month, June 2014.

    Even breast-fed babies can get rotavirus.

    When my first daughter was about 11 months old, she picked up rotavirus from an indoor playground. There was a confirmed outbreak and she got it a bad case of it. The details are fuzzy for me, because what we went through was horrendous, but within a few days she had explosive diarrhea and vomiting all day and night, almost once an hour each. She would wake up screaming and then throw up all over me. We ended up having to sleep on the floor, on a camp mattress covered with a tarp and towels. I changed the towels several times a night. She gave eating or drinking. She only wanted to nurse. I had been nursing her quite a lot at that point but she went form nursing once every 3-5 hours to wanting to nurse nonstop. Literally. I became a human pacifier. Nothing else soothed her.

    For ten days, I was a human pacifier, sleeping a few hours at most a day, trying my best to practice good hygiene so I did not give rotavirus to anyone else. I had to check her all day long for signs of dehydration because that would mean she would need replacement fluids and hospitalization. I feel very lucky that my breast-milk saved her from that fate but I do know other moms who did have to take their previously healthy, breastfed babies to the hospital because of rotavirus. And I know how fast dehydration in a toddler can lead to death. Those ten days were frightening.

    And then, a week or so after she got better, she got it again. Apparently, my cleaning was not good enough, even though I am married to a biologist and we know how to disinfect to laboratory standard. It is rare but you can get rotavirus more than once and rotavirus germs can live for days. She got rotavirus again for another ten days and I had to live the whole thing all over again. To this day, it makes me cry to talk about this experience. After the second time, I literally disinfected or threw away every toy, surface, product, and household item I could find and we conquered it. And when her sister was born three years later and I learned there is now a rotavirus vaccine, I cried. Literally, I cried. Thank you Paul Offit, Stanley Plotkin, and Fred Clark for working for 25 years to create RotaTeq so my younger daughter is protected from this vicious disease.

  4. Kathy says:

    Dr Offit is a hero. He gave decades of his life to try to develop a vaccine, not knowing if it would ever work. That it does work is amazing. He no longer holds the patent for it and does not make money off it. So, why people think he is shameful is beyond me. He is a hero to me. I am so very thankful that my younger daughter will not get rota because of his vaccine.

  5. Lawrence says:

    It is a real shame that when some people don’t like the message (that vaccines save lives and improve quality of life) they attack the messenger – or worse, attack the very people that make these scientific advances possible…..shame on the anti-vax movement for trying to vilify a man who is directly responsible for saving tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children from dying of disease.

  6. lilady says:

    I met Dr. Offit very briefly at a seminar at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory last year. His presentation was about many different types of “alternative medicine” and the anti-vaccine movement. I, of course, was quite familiar with his work with the rotavirus vaccine development, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)-Vaccine Education Center and his chairmanship of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the CHOP. My husband who accompanied me to that seminar, was extremely impressed with Dr. Offit’s extraordinary presentation.

    I’m with Lawrence about the activities of the anti-vaccine movement and their libelous statements about Dr. Offit.

  7. Chris says:

    Kathy: “When my first daughter was about 11 months old, she picked up rotavirus from an indoor playground.”

    That is probably where my son got rotavirus when he was a bit over a year old very early in 1990. He did get dehydrated, which screwed up his electrolytes, so he ended up having a major seizure, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

    Paul Shapiro: “Dr Profit ought to be ashamed of himself!!!!”

    Exactly why? I only wish he and his vaccine co-inventors had taken only five years, not twenty years, to develop a way to prevent rotavirus. That way I would not have had to spend over a week with rivers of poo that could not be contained with a disposable diaper, plus a cloth diaper and rubber pants over it all…. then having to call 911 when he had a seizure.

    Perhaps, Mr. Shapiro, you should be ashamed for believing vaccines cause more harm than the diseases and baseless name calling. Next time just bring real evidence, not insults.

  8. Simpson says:

    This is my favorite Dr. Offit quote,
    “”The real danger seems to be that people are taking charge of their own health.”

    Remember, don’t take your vitamin C, but please get as many vaccinations as you can.

    • reissd says:

      Actually, if you look at Dr. Offit’s comments about both vitamins and vaccines, he criticizes mega vitamins because the research shows potential harms and no benefits – and points out most of us get the vitamins we need from nutrition – but he also emphasize that vitamins are necessary and discusses cases where the research supports supplementation. For vaccines, too, he does not automatically endorse all – but he points out the care in which the CDC schedule is determined: for those recommended vaccines, the benefits outweigh the risks. To remind you, he opposed, for example, reintroduction of the smallpox vaccine.

  9. Lawrence says:

    @Simpson – yes, people taking charge of their own health by relying on quack remedies, supplements, etc. is a real problem……something that should be discouraged by increased education, of course.

  10. Lawrence says:

    Again, people don’t like the message, so they attack the messenger (without addressing real facts or the science, etc).

  11. Simpson says:

    Lawrence, it’s ok, I’m just heading out to get some acupuncture to take care of the 10,000 vaccines I got earlier today.

  12. Simpson says:

    Lawrence, “Again, people don’t like the message, so they attack the messenger (without addressing real facts or the science, etc).”

    It is his quote and message so why shouldn’t he be attacked? I happen to think that people do need to take charge of their own health. Nobody else is going to look out for you. That is a fact.

  13. Lawrence says:

    @Simpson – good luck with that…..as to managing your own health, I am certainly all for it, as long as people utilize good judgement based on actual evidence, science and a healthy dose of reality – which is a group of things that anti-vax individuals seem to have in very short supply (if at all).

  14. Lawrence says:

    Like Dr. Degrasse Tyson, Dr. Offit is a great example of Scientists and Researchers working to make scientific ideas and information available and easily understood by the general public. Their good works stand in stead against the rising ignorance that too many individuals embrace…..

  15. Vaughn says:

    Chris: I assume “Dr. Profit” is a nickname for Andrew Wakefield. I don’t know why Paul Shapiro decided to critique Wakefield in a thread about Offit, but he’s free to do so.

    Simpson: Do you have a reference for the quote you attribute to Offit, or is it just something you made up?

  16. Lawrence says:

    @Vaughn – I agree. Dr. Offit was compensated once for several decades of work, which has, in turn, saved hundreds of thousands of lives…..while Wakefield continues to be paid or receive “donations” and his work has resulted in nothing but continued suffering and the death of children….

    Anti-vax morality at its finest….

  17. Simpson says:

    Vaughn, in his book, “Killing Us Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine”

  18. Lawrence says:

    @Simpson – perhaps you should post the entire quote in context…..rather than cherry-picking a single sentence (out of an entire book).

    • reissd says:

      A page reference at least would be nice, since searching the book for the word “charge” on Kindle did not find the quote. Admittedly, I’m reading the American version, Do You Believe in Magic: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine”

  19. Lawrence says:

    @Dorit – interestingly enough, when you search for that particular quote online, it only seems to appear on anti-vax websites (and woo ones as well) or in anti-vax comments……again, Simpson needs to cite the quote in context, if he is able.

  20. Vaughn says:

    I found the quote : it’s part of a review of “Do You Believe In Magic” – the full quote is:

    “The real danger seems to be that people are taking charge of their own health. The idea that diet, supplements, homeopathy, and alternative treatments like chelation and acupuncture can restore health and keep us that way, is of course a huge threat to the pharmaceutical industry and mainstream medicine—entities that profit from treating chronic conditions, especially with prescription drugs” – it was written by Anne Daschel and can be found here http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/06/industry-insider-paul-offit-attacks-every-non-pharma-treatment-known-to-mankind.html

    I’m not sure how Simpson made the mistake of thinking the quote is from Offit’s book – maybe he was reading the book and the review at the same time, and got confused? But anyway, now that he knows that the quote he called his favorite “Offit quote” is in fact not by Offit at all, I have complete faith that he’ll go back to everyone he (inadvertanly, I’m sure) lied to, and tell that the truth that this quote is not from Offit; hopefully this won’t take him too long. Who knows – now that Simpson has been informed of his mistake, he may become a supporter of Offit.

  21. Lawrence says:

    @Vaughn – I suspected that might have been the case, given where I could only find the quote…..(anti-vax websites, etc).

    Given that “alternative” treatments are, themselves, a multi-billion dollar a year business, I find it extremely disingenuous to put them on some sort of “pedestal of virtue” given the lack of efficacy, evidence or real regulation as well…..it is strictly a profit-driven industry, and for people to treat it as something different doesn’t make a lick of sense.

  22. Lawrence says:

    I’m surprised he was so restrained, given the large number of death threats that he’s received, along with his wife.

    And his only crime? Helping to invent a vaccine which saves hundreds of thousands of lives, each and every year.

    Yeah, I’d say he was very cool.

  23. Janie says:

    I didn’t know he received death threats. That makes his response to this polite camera guy OK.

  24. Lawrence says:

    A camera guy who happens to have a criminal record? In an area of campus in which filming was prohibited?

    Seriously, Dr. Offit was well within his rights to be angry…and in fact, I find his response to be very cool, given the situation.

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