Sixteen diseases are now preventable thanks to one of the marvels of modern medicine - vaccinations. But a conflict is steadily brewing between the medical community, concerned parents and other anti-vaccination activists. Do the potential harms outweigh the benefits? The PBS Frontline documentary series examines this controversial and contentious issue with The Vaccine War.
While vaccines have been credited with the eradication of smallpox, polio and other once calamitous diseases, a growing number of parents are refusing them altogether. The number of required pediatric vaccinations has grown over the years, and this community of dissenters questions whether they do more harm than good.
The film speaks with representatives from all sides of the issue. A mother of four bemoans the fact that her oldest child was almost administered a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease as an infant. She has since refused vaccinations for the remainder of her children. This parent, and others like her, believes that some childhood illnesses are a necessary rite of passage.
Another parent wholeheartedly embraces the gift of vaccination. In her view, a failure to administer these vaccines is tantamount to neglect. "It's an outbreak waiting to happen," she claims. One unvaccinated child could put countless others at risk. In recent years, this type of scenario has been seen in some regions with the spreading of measles.
Then there are the members of the medical community who are desperate to stop the spread of disinformation. For them, the necessity of vaccines is apparent as is any tool that helps prevent hospitalization, suffering and untimely death.
The filmmakers also spotlight the insights of researchers and other vocal critics who believe these vaccines - especially when administered in combination - could overwhelm a child's immune system. In their view, this could result in autism and other cognitive impairments. Epidemiologists refute this claim.
The film's diverse panel of interview subjects also discusses the ingredients of popular vaccinations, the erosion of trust among patients and physicians, and weighing the decision made for one child against the benefit of the entire pediatric population.
The Vaccine War is a clear-headed examination of a high-stakes issue.