Paul Offit

Paul Offit (right) along with H. Fred Clark. Clark and Offit are two of the three inventors of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq,[1] which is credited with saving hundreds of lives a day.[2]

Paul A. Offit, M.D., is an American pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology. He is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine that has been credited with saving hundreds of lives every day. Offit is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He has been a member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.[2] Offit is also a Founding Board Member of the Autism Science Foundation (ASF.)[3]

Offit has published more than 130 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety,[2] and is the author or co-author of books on vaccines, vaccination, and antibiotics. He is one of the most public faces of the scientific consensus that vaccines have no association with autism, and has, as a result, attracted controversy and a substantial volume of hate mail and occasional death threats,[4][5] but also support for his position.[2][6]



Offit grew up in Baltimore, the son of a shirtmaker. He went to his father's sales meetings and reacted negatively to the tall tales told by salespeople, preferring instead what he saw as the clean and straightforward life of science.[7] When he was five years old, he was sent to a polio ward to recover from clubfoot surgery; this experience caused him to see children as vulnerable and helpless, and motivated him through the 25 years of the development of the rotavirus vaccine.[2][8]

Offit decided to become a doctor, the first in his family.[1] Offit earned his bachelor's degree from Tufts University and his M.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. One of his mentors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelpha was Maurice R. Hilleman, the greatest vaccine-maker of the 20th century.[7]

By 2008 Offit had become the U.S.'s leading advocate of childhood immunizations. He was opposed by vaccine critics, many of whom believe vaccines cause autism, a belief not supported by scientific data. He received a death threat and received protection by an armed guard during meetings at the CDC.[2] His 2008 book Autism's False Prophets catalyzed a backlash against the antivaccine movement in the U.S.[4] He donated the royalties from the book to the Center for Autism Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.[9]

Rotavirus vaccine

Offit worked for 25 years on the development of a safe and effective vaccine against rotavirus, which is a cause of gastroenteritis,[5] and which kills as many as 600,000 children a year worldwide, about half as many as malaria kills; most deaths are outside the West.[4] His interest in the disease stemmed from the death of a 9-month-old infant from rotavirus-caused dehydration while under his care as a pediatric resident in 1979.[5][8]

Along with his colleagues Fred Clark and Stanley Plotkin, Offit invented RotaTeq,[1] a pentavalent rotavirus vaccine which is currently manufactured by Merck & Co. RotaTeq is one of two vaccines currently used against rotavirus, which replaced an earlier vaccine withdrawn after being blamed, perhaps incorrectly, for very rare cases of intussusception.[4]

In February 2006, RotaTeq was approved for inclusion in the recommended US vaccination schedule, following its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[4][10] Premarketing studies found that RotaTeq was effective and safe, with an incidence of adverse events comparable to placebo and no evidence of association with intussusception.[11] RotaTeq is credited with saving hundreds of lives a day.[2] Offit received an unspecified sum of money for his interest in RotaTeq.[7]

Smallpox vaccine

In 2002, during a period of fears about bioterrorism, Offit was the only member of the CDC's advisory panel to vote against a program to give smallpox vaccine to tens of thousands of Americans. He later argued on 60 Minutes II and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer that the risk of harm for people getting the vaccine outweighed the risk of getting smallpox in the U.S. at the time.[1]


Offit is a recipient of numerous awards, including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics from the University of Maryland Medical School, the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health.[9]

Michael Specter wrote that Offit "has become a figure of hatred to the many vaccine denialists and conspiracy theorists." Specter reported that Offit had often been threatened with violence by anti-vaccine advocates, necessitating precautions such as screening Offit's packages for mail bombs and providing guards when Offit attends federal health advisory committee meetings.[12] At a 2008 vaccine activism rally in Washington, DC, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. criticized Offit's ties to drug companies, calling him a "poster child for the term 'biostitute'."[7] Curt Linderman Sr., the editor of the Autism File blog, wrote online that it would "be nice" if Offit "was dead".[1]

Such vilification has provoked statements in Offit's defense. Peter Hotez, a professor and vaccine researcher at George Washington University, has been quoted in a Newsweek article:

Peter Hotez ... says government health officials should take a bolder stand in reassuring the public. Hotez feels as strongly as Offit does about the science (saying vaccines cause autism, he says, "is like saying the world is flat"), but, like other busy scientists, he's less willing to enter the fray. "Here's someone who has created an invention that saves hundreds of lives every day," says Hotez, whose daughter, 15, has autism, "and he's vilified as someone who hates children. It's just so unfair."[2]

In 2011 Offit was honored by the Biotechnology Industry Organization with the 2011 Biotech Humanitarian Award.[13] Offit donated the award’s $10,000 prize to the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.[14]

In 2001 Offit was elected to the Institute of Medicine at the group's annual meeting.[15]


Offit has written or co-written several books on vaccines, vaccination and the public, and antibiotics, as well as dozens of scholarly articles on the topic. Isabelle Rapin, a neurology professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, wrote in Neurology Today about Autism's False Prophets:

This book explores why parents, seeking in vain for a cure and for an explanation of their child's problem, are so vulnerable to false hopes and to the nasty predators who have from time immemorial always taken advantage of the desperate in our society. ... [Offit] became outraged by Dr. Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study in the Lancet that blamed the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine for causing autism. Dr. Offit predicted the paper would precipitate a resurgence of measles and its serious complications, and even deaths–a prophecy soon realized.[16]


  • Offit, Paul A (2011). Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All . Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02149-9. 
  • Offit, Paul A (2008). Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-14636-4. 
  • Offit, Paul A (2007). Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases. Smithsonian Books/Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-122795-0. 
  • Offit, Paul A (2005). The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10864-4. 
  • Offit, Paul A; Louis M. Bell (2003). Vaccines: What You Should Know ((third edition) ed.). Wiley. ISBN 978-0471420040. 
  • Marshall, Gary S; Penelope H. Dennehy, David P. Greenberg, Paul A. Offit, and Tina Q. Tan (2003). The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 978-0781735698. 
  • Offit, Paul A. and Louis M. Bell (1999). Vaccines: What Every Parent Should Know. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0028638614. 
  • Offit, Paul A; Bonnie Fass-Offit and Louis M. Bell (1999). Breaking the Antibiotic Habit: A Parent's Guide to Coughs, Colds, Ear Infections, and Sore Throats. John Wiley. ISBN 978-0471319825. 

Medical articles



  1. ^ a b c d e Wallace A (2009-10-19). "An epidemic of fear: how panicked parents skipping shots endangers us all". Wired. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kalb C (2008-11-03). "Stomping through a medical minefield". Newsweek 152 (18): 62–3. PMID 18998447. 
  3. ^ "ASF Founding Board Member Dr. Paul Offit Elected to the Institute of Medicine". Autism Science Foundation. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e McNeil DG Jr (2009-01-12). "Book is rallying resistance to the antivaccine crusade". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  5. ^ a b c Avril T (2008-09-17). "Expert sees no link between vaccines and autism". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  6. ^ Author: Vaccine Book Brings Out Hidden Support After Death Threats. Reuters, February 18, 2009
  7. ^ a b c d Fagone J (June 2009). "Will this doctor hurt your baby?". Philadelphia. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  8. ^ a b Campbell G (2009-01-30). "Interview with Dr. Paul Offit, MD, on vaccine safety" (PDF). Books and Ideas.  Podcast (MP3). Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  9. ^ a b "Author royalties from autism book donated to autism research" (Press release). Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 2008-11-03.,+2008. 
  10. ^ Russell S (2006-02-04). "FDA OKs safer vaccine for children". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  11. ^ American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases (2007). "Prevention of rotavirus disease: guidelines for use of rotavirus vaccine". Pediatrics 119 (1): 171–82. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-3134. PMID 17200286. 
  12. ^ Specter, Michael (2009). Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-59420-230-8. 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ Stencel, Christine (October 17, 2011), IOM Elects 65 New Members, Five Foreign Associates, Institute of Medicine,, retrieved October 19, 2011 
  16. ^ Rapin I (15 January 2009). "High Hopes, Shoddy Research and Elusive Therapies for Autism Examined and Exposed" (Book review). Neurology Today 9 (2): 23. doi:10.1097/01.NT.0000345037.57123.0b.,_Shoddy_Research_and_Elusive_Therapies.11.aspx. 

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