Vaccines, and risk

May 8, 2003

I attended a very informative and enlightening conference today at the NC Biotechnogy Center, The Science of Vaccines: Leading the Way in Disease Prevention and Biodefense. The speakers were top notch, and I was particularly enthralled by Dr. Myron Cohen, Dr. Samuel Katz and David Ropeik. Cohen is a professor of microbiology and immunology at UNC, and he gave a comprehensive background on the transmission and prevention of infectious disease. Katz, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Duke, is a superstar scientist who helped develop the measles vaccine that has saved millions of lives. Ropeik works out of Harvard’s School of Public Health and teaches about risk communication; he’s written a book, Risk, about deciding what’s really safe and dangerous in our world. The consensus at the conference was that immunizations are indeed an important public health tool, but Ropeik explained that all of us perceive risk through many filters, including trust, control, uncertainty, familiarity and awareness.

A very informative graphic ran on the Op/Ed page of the NY Times last week. See it here. It puts SARS into perspective. Of course, we all perceive the risks from these infectious diseases differently, however clearly we understand the rational and relative risk of each.

Anton Zuiker

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