Offit has published more than 130 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety, 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. As a result, he has attracted controversy, and both a substantial volume of hate mail and occasional death threats, as well as support for his position.
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, instead preferring the clean and straightforward practice of science. 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.
Paul Offit (right) along with H. Fred Clark. Clark and Offit are two of the three inventors of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq, which is credited with saving hundreds of lives a day.
Offit worked for 25 years on the development of a safe and effective vaccine against rotavirus, which is a cause of diarrhea, and which kills almost 600,000 children a year worldwide, about half as many as malaria kills; most deaths are outside the West. 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.
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.
Action against dietary supplements and alternative medicine
In December 2013, Sarah Erush and Offit declared the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has a moratorium on the use of dietary supplements without certain manufacturers' guarantee for quality.
Our hospital has acted to protect the safety of our patients. No longer will we administer dietary supplements unless the manufacturer provides a third-party written guarantee that the product is made under the F.D.A.'s "good manufacturing practice" (G.M.P.) conditions, as well as a Certificate of Analysis (C.O.A.) assuring that what is written on the label is what's in the bottle.
Offit defines alternative medicine as quackery when it involves unappreciated harm and replacement of conventional therapies that work, with alternative therapies that don't. His books and articles warn against expense and risk to health for recipients of alternative therapies. In 2013 Offit wrote the book Do you believe in Magic? - The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. Offit states that the purpose of the book "is to take a critical look at the field of Alternative Medicine - to separate fact from myth." and that "There's only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't."(p. 6) One of Offit's concerns is the scare tactics he says proponents of Alternative Medicine will often use, in a 2010 podcast with the Point of Inquiry Offit stated "it is very difficult to unscare people when you scare them."
In 2011 Offit was honored by the Biotechnology Industry Organization with the 2011 Biotech Humanitarian Award. Offit donated the award's $10,000 prize to the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Also in 2011, Offit was elected to the Institute of Medicine at the group's annual meeting. In 2013 Offit was presented with the Robert B. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) for Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. "Offit is a literal lifesaver... educates the public about the dangers of alternative medicine, may save many, many more."
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. At a 2008 vaccine activism rally in Washington, D.C., environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. criticized Offit's ties to drug companies, calling him a "poster child for the term 'biostitute'."
Also in 2008, Sharyl Attkisson published an article for CBS News questioning Offit's independence, citing his financial ties to vaccine manufacturers. Offit said he is upfront about the money and that it doesn't affect his decisions. Curt Linderman Sr., the editor of the Autism File blog, wrote online that it would "be nice" if Offit "was dead".
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."
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.
In "The Cutter Incident" (seeCutter Laboratories incident), Offit describes fallout relating to an early poliovirus vaccine tragedy that had the effect of deterring production of already licensed vaccines and discouraging the development of new ones. Offit advocates for the repeal of religious exemptions to vaccine requirements, saying that such exemptions amount to medical neglect.
Offit, Paul A. (2018). BAD ADVICE: or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren't Your Best Source of Health Information. Columbia University Press. ISBN978-0231186988.
Offit, Paul A. (2017). Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong. National Geographic. ISBN978-1426217982.
Offit, Paul A. (2015). Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine. Basic Books. ISBN978-0465082964.
Marshall, Gary S; Dennehy, Penelope H.; Greenberg, David P.; Offit, Paul A.; Tan, Tina Q. (2003). The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN978-0-7817-3569-8.
Brown KA, Offit PA (1998). "Rotavirus-specific proteins are detected in murine macrophages in both intestinal and extraintestinal lymphoid tissues". Microb Pathog. 24 (6): 327-31. doi:10.1006/mpat.1997.0198. PMID9632536.
Moser CA, Speaker TJ, Offit PA (1997). "Effect of microencapsulation on immunogenicity of a bovine herpes virus glycoprotein and inactivated influenza virus in mice". Vaccine. 15 (16): 1767-72. doi:10.1016/S0264-410X(97)00106-0. PMID9364681.
Lomotan EA, Brown KA, Speaker TJ, Offita PA (1997). "Aqueous-based microcapsules are detected primarily in gut-associated dendritic cells after oral inoculation of mice". Vaccine. 15 (17-18): 1959-62. doi:10.1016/S0264-410X(97)00108-4. PMID9413108.
Moser CA, Speaker TJ, Berlin JA, Offit PA (1996). "Aqueous-based microencapsulation enhances virus-specific humoral immune responses in mice after parenteral inoculation". Vaccine. 14 (13): 1235-38. doi:10.1016/S0264-410X(96)00026-6. PMID8961511.
^Taylor, Luke E.; Swerdfeger, Amy L.; Eslick, Guy D. (June 2014). "Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies". Vaccine. 32 (29): 3623-3629. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.04.085. PMID24814559.