Bill Gates becomes the vaccine man

By putting his money on the side of medical science, Bill Gates has also put himself on the line against the anti-vaccination movement. Sometimes smart must also be courageous.

Bill Gates has never shied from controversy.  His next 10 years promise to be as controversial as the last 30 as he re-makes himself into the pied piper of vaccines.

That's what the 10-year, $10 billion commitment of his Gates Foundation does. Bill Gates is now the leading advocate of mass vaccination in the world.

The money will go into making routine vaccinations as universally available in the developing world as they are in the U.S. Gates estimates h8 million lives could be saved from vaccines for such diseases as measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio.

The World Health Organization immediately sent out a press release of support for Gates' plans, which were made at the Davos Economic Summit in Switzerland, where he also waxed poetic on marrying capitalism to philanthropy.

What he may underestimate is the size and breadth of the opposition to vaccines, which I have covered here and at ZDNet Healthcare the last few years.

Take the measles vaccine, which has been under attack for over a decade, since Andrew Wakefield released a study in The Lancet linking it to autism. Great Britain's General Medical Council has now decided he acted dishonestly and irresponsibly, but that will not end the matter.

Dr. Wakefield has inspired a growing political movement against vaccines on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of it comes from well-meaning "wellness" advocates, but whatever the source it has created an epidemic of fear that is raising the spectre of polio and measles in this country, even as Gates tries to eradicate it in Africa.

In this money is not the issue, power is. Gates is going to be drawn into this inevitably, the man with the target on his back, as the anti-vaccination forces follow him into the developing world and try to put him on the defensive on his home ground.

The opposition is not just the cranks surrounding Wakefield and the holistic health nuts. It comes from famous people like Jenny McCarthy and Robert Kennedy Jr., who call rotavirus vaccine pioneer Paul Offit a profiteer, and have grabbed the URLs using his name to spout their hatred of him.

By putting his money on the side of medical science, Bill Gates has also put himself on the line against the anti-vaccination movement. Offit's book tour on behalf of his pro-vaccine book last year was canceled due to death threats.

Now Gates has walked into the line of fire from groups like Generation Rescue. Sometimes smart must also be courageous.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com