PBS' new NOVA special "Vaccines -- Calling the Shots" takes...

PBS' new NOVA special "Vaccines -- Calling the Shots" takes viewers around the world to track epidemics, explore the science behind vaccinations, and shed light on the risks of opting out. Featuring scientists, pediatricians, psychologists, anthropologists, and parents wrestling with vaccine-related questions. Credit: Genepool Productions

THE SHOW "NOVA: Vaccines -- Calling the Shots"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 9 on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Diseases thought long gone -- measles, whooping cough -- are making a comeback (including an outbreak of measles recently in Brooklyn) because of what might be called failure-to- inoculate. Doubts have crept into the minds of some parents: Should I? And what are the risks? Those questions are resoundingly answered here.

MY SAY Is there really a valid debate any longer over the value or importance of vaccines? If so, then "Calling the Shots" is designed as an ironclad, insistent, well-reported film that, in the very nicest way possible, tells those who have decided not to vaccinate their children that they are -- essentially -- blithering idiots. There is no debate, or should be no debate, or if there is a debate, those doing the debating have spent way too much time on the Internet. That's the other message here.

There's a reason for the urgency of the message: "NOVA" says that so-called "herd immunity," a shield that protects virtually everyone (even the uninoculated) from disease, is largely intact when roughly 95 percent of the population is inoculated. But it crumbles when that level falls even a few percentage points -- as happened in France a few years ago, when 15,000 people contracted measles and six died. (Children, as always, are at greatest risk.)

Simply put, diseases that once were thought eradicated at that point find a way to sneak back into the general population, and there is evidence -- as this program documents -- that more and more people are not vaccinating their children, or delaying vaccination.

One by one, "Shots" strikes down the anti-vaccine bogeymen -- for example, how vaccines may cause autism (zero evidence for that claim, according to dozens of studies) or seizures (Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy in infancy, can be triggered by vaccines -- but there are other triggers, too, including fever). It is so methodical that after a while, "Calling the Shots" starts to sound like an industry film in support of a product that most people bought decades ago and continue to buy.

BOTTOM LINE Interesting -- but essentially directed at someone who may actually doubt the efficacy of vaccination.


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