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Q&A with Dr. Paul Offit of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, March 28, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
A bottle containing a measles vaccine is displayed on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Miami Children's Hospital.
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A bottle containing a measles vaccine is displayed on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Miami Children's Hospital.

Dr. Paul Offit

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania, will be in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to receive the Porter Prize. The award from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health recognizes exceptional performance in health promotion and disease prevention. Offit will be honored for his contributions to improve immunization rates and vaccine development. He will be at the University Club in Oakland for a question and answer session moderated by Paul Guggenheimer of WESA-FM (90.5) Essential Pittsburgh. The session is free and open to the public, beginning at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The Tribune-Review spoke to Offit in anticipation of his visit.

How do you feel about the anti-vaccine movement?

I think people aren't as compelled by disease anymore and become skeptical about vaccines, which is not surprising. We give 14 different vaccines over the first year of life, so I'm not surprised by the pushback. A lot of those people are scared of vaccines, and our job is to explain why they are important. Those who are cynical and believe there is a conspiracy to sell them, I have little sympathy for — because they are wrong. We're just a bunch of people trying to do the right thing for children.

Is a vaccine for the Zika virus imminent? If so, how long will it take to develop one?

Typically it takes a couple decades to develop a vaccine. On the other hand, a pathway to make a vaccine for Zika is fairly well beaten with other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue. I'm optimistic there will be a vaccine. During an outbreak, the rollout may be quicker, but it could still be several years.

What are some other important vaccines that are in the works?

The next biggest is the RSV vaccine, which would be given to women during pregnancy and protect the mother and child. (Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a disease that causes infections of the lower respiratory tract, mainly in infants and young children.) The pregnancy platform for the vaccine has been established and hopefully been expanded.

What are your feelings about employers forcing employees to get flu vaccines?

We're one of them. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia mandates influenza vaccine for health care workers. If you choose not to get influenza vaccine, you can't work at our hospital. We think that is your obligation.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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