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'NOVA' Looks at Childhood Vaccines and Some of Their Controversies

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The PBS science show "NOVA" takes at look at vaccines on Wednesday night, including controversies over certain vaccines for children.

The hourlong episode, "Vaccines: Calling the Shots," (scheduled to air on many PBS stations after President Barack Obama's 9 p.m. address)  is unquestionably pro-vaccine. "Today, children are getting sick and dying from communicable diseases as parents skip necessary shots," the narrator says.

Childhood diseases that were once nearly eradicated, such as measles and whooping cough, have made comebacks in Europe and the United States, and vaccination levels have dropped, the show says.

The show mentions the role of mandatory vaccinations before school enrollment. It also covers such controversies as the debate about whether certain vaccines have a causal link to autism and the propriety of the HPV (human papillomavirus) for young male and female teenagers.

The show interviews a few parents who have chosen to delay or skip recommended vaccines for their children. And it quotes an academic who says it's perfectly OK for parents to question vaccines.

But it gives more attention to an infectious-disease expert who notes that declines in vaccination rates inevitably lead to the re-emergence of certain diseases.

"It's a history we don't seem to learn from," says the expert, who seems to liken today's vaccine skeptics to those in the 18th century who thought Edward Jenner's smallpox might turn them into cows. 

With whiz-bang animation and graphics, the show covers the discovery of vaccines, the concept of herd immunity, and extreme cases of vaccine-caused injuries. 

With vaccines at the center of various educational debates, the "NOVA" episode will be of interest to many in the the field.

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