NOVA Film “Vaccines: Calling the Shots” Opens the Door for Dialogue
Sep 11, 2014

After viewing PBS’ NOVA film Vaccines: Calling the Shots, I began wondering what the film’s impact would be.  I’ll admit that the film was very ambitious.  It addressed the science behind vaccines, why they work, how they work & even touched upon how people assess risk and decide whether to vaccinate or not.  All this in less than an hour.

Of course, no one should expect this film to be the one defining piece that will convince people to vaccinate. Certainly it may reinforce the decision of those who already choose to vaccinate. And it may give pause to those who would otherwise refrain from vaccinating. But most importantly, this film is a valuable tool to help educate people about the science behind vaccines, inform the public about the importance of herd immunity and the dangers of not vaccinating, and open the door for civil dialogue about common vaccine safety concerns.

Looking back on the tweets I sent during the premiere, I realized that the film touched upon some of the most important immunization related issues I hear from parents day after day.  My goal now is to encourage as many people as possible to see this film (available online) and to use it as a way to encourage further conversation.

Of course, the film began with the usual caveats:

  • In the US more than 90% of parents vaccinate & most follow the recommended schedule.
  • Vaccine history may repeat itself. @PaulOffit explains “If you start to decrease vaccination rates you start to see the diseases reemerge.”

NOVAMeaslesIn order to appreciate the value of vaccines, the film began by addressing the recent resurgence of diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles.  It explained the infectious nature of these diseases, illustrated how epidemics are tracked and spread, and allowed viewers to see a tearful mother watching her infant child laying in a hospital bed and battling violent coughing fits brought on by an incurable disease known as pertussis.


#VaccinesNOVA really highlights how highly contagious measles is. Two hours lingering in an elevator can result in infection. 2 HOURS!

WOW! It’s eye opening to realize that some doctors have never actually seen infectious diseases like measles! Both good & bad!

Herd immunity differs for different diseases. For measles a 95% vaccination rate is needed. Even a slight drop can be detrimental.

The sound of a baby battling whooping cough; struggling to breathe is a sound that no parent should ever have to hear.

There is no cure for pertussis. Parents watch their babies, too young to be vaccinated, struggle with violent cough. 1 in 100 infants will die.

For more specific diseases information, check out the Vaccines and Diseases section of the Vaccinate Your Family’s website.

After covering the diseases themselves, the film moved on to address various vaccine safety concerns.  Several vaccine hesitant parents are heard expressing their reservations about vaccines and the vaccine schedule. This is followed by compelling graphics, expert scientific commentary and valid examples of investigations into vaccine safety.

NOVAParentsRisksBy featuring the story of a child who suffered with seizures post vaccination, the filmmakers highlight the small but real risk of adverse events, as well as an example of how correlation often fails to prove causation. Then the film went on to talk about David Salamone, who contracted polio after receiving the oral polio vaccine.  We learn that David’s father John became the driving force that led to critical and life-saving changes in the polio vaccine recommendations.  Though his child was injured by a vaccine, John Salamone speaks about the value of our national immunization program and emphasizes how important it is that it is based on a proper benefit-risk equation.

  • I found it wonderfully refreshing that #VaccinesNOVA addressed vaccine safety issues head on. BRAVO!
  • I feel for those parents who are so confused by vaccine safety that they seem paralyzed & unable to make a decision.
  • Most kids have no side effects from vaccines. Occasional swelling, fever or seizure. And yes, sometimes extremely rare cases of injury.
  • So glad #VaccinesNOVA film brings up the concern about seizures in their discussion of vaccine safety. Probably a big concern for many.
  • Love the animated graphics that explain how vaccines and immunity work. Even my kids get it!
  • Combination vaccines are safe and reduce the number of shots our children need. I call that a WIN/WIN.
  • David’s father is a shining example of how people can advocate for vaccine safety & work to preserve public health.

No film on vaccines would be complete without addressing the question of autism. Fortunately in this film they include an interview with Alison Singer, founder and President of the Autism Science Foundation.  Not only is she passionate and articulate about autism, she is very clear about where the science stands.

  • #VaccinesNOVA explains the vaccine/autism concern. So glad they interviewed Autism Science Foundation’s founder, Alison Singer, who says ENOUGH! We don’t need more studies.
  • RT @alisonsinger: #vaccinesNOVA This is a question that science can answer and it has! Vaccines don’t cause autism!
  • There’s never been a study to prove vaccines cause autism, yet there are numerous studies that show they DON’T.

One important inclusion in this film is the conversation surrounding HPV.  While parents are often frightened by unfounded suggestions of vaccine dangers, Dr. Amy Middleman had some extremely hard-hitting comments on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and the undeniable dangers of this cancer-causing virus.

“People always say they wish they could prevent cancer. The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. Who wouldn’t want that for their child.”

In regards to HPV “how they are getting exposed is irrelevant to preventing the disease.” We are preventing cancer!

Of course, a one hour documentary on PBS NOVA could never expect to be enough to change a person’s opinions of vaccines.  But hopefully it will be one of many educational tools that can serve as a tipping point among the vaccine hesitant and an affirmation for the 90% of the population that is currently vaccinating.

For those who missed the broadcast, it is available for viewing on PBS NOVA’s website. Following your viewing of this program we encourage anyone with questions or concerns about vaccines to get them addressed.

As for what this film can accomplished, I can honestly say that I’ve already been fielding questions from friends and family who I had encouraged to tune in.  My children, who watched alongside me, were relieved to understand why they’ve been vaccinated.  My nine year old has repeatedly questioned whether I was certain she had all her vaccines.  “I don’t want to get those awful diseases,” she explained.  The good news is that I suspect she’s not going to be complaining about her flu shot this season or even that Tdap booster that’s due in a few years.  Understanding can make all the difference in the world.

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