By Steven M. Altschuler
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia employs hundreds of researchers working to improve the lives of children. Often, it makes sense to extend their scientific findings beyond our patients and care providers by speaking out on public-health issues.
In the public exchange of ideas, scientists are not voicing just another set of opinions; theirs are backed by peer-reviewed evidence. The famous American physicist Richard Feynman is quoted as saying, "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is; it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong."
In one of our efforts to bring an evidence-based voice to public forums, we launched the Vaccine Education Center in 2000. The center seeks to spread accurate, up-to-date, scientific information about vaccines and the diseases they prevent to parents and health-care professionals. It provides a stream of accessible, bilingual information for parents and care providers - including fact sheets, booklets, and DVDs - about specific vaccines, how they work, and why public-health experts recommend them.
The center also offers regular updates and commentaries on vaccine-related news stories, often to counteract popular misconceptions about vaccine safety. Reporters often cite the center as a reliable source in news articles on the subject.
Dr. Paul A. Offit, who is the director of the vaccine center, the hospital's chief of infectious diseases, and a coinventor of the lifesaving rotavirus vaccine, is a tireless advocate for the benefits of vaccines. In addition to his scientific contributions, he has written five books and numerous articles on the topic, appeared on television and radio to discuss it, and spoken to groups of parents, clinicians, and media professionals about it.
Today, with the toll of infectious disease greatly reduced by vaccines, the leading cause of death among American children and adolescents is injury. As such, for more than a decade, CHOP's Center for Injury Research and Prevention has brought pediatricians, engineers, emergency-medicine specialists, and others together to advance the safety of children, adolescents, and young adults, focusing on motor-vehicle accidents.
Members of the center's staff have published groundbreaking, peer-reviewed research on child safety seats and restraints in motor vehicles. They have testified before Congress and state legislatures on measures to protect children in vehicles. And they have helped medical organizations make policy recommendations.
The center helped formulate the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation, just last month, that children under 2 be kept in rear-facing safety seats. The center also performed much of the research supporting the recommendation.
The injury center has also undertaken a major research and public education initiative on teen driver safety. It also operates the website Aftertheinjury.org, which provides resources for parents and children recovering from the physical and psychological effects of a traumatic injury.
The center recently expanded its focus to encompass violence prevention, cooperating with area universities and community organizations in the Philadelphia Collaborative Violence Prevention Center. Its central goal is to initiate and evaluate violence-prevention programs for young people in West and Southwest Philadelphia.
Violence affecting children reminds us that child welfare is not isolated from broader social problems. Researchers at CHOP's PolicyLab use their expertise to bridge the gap between scientific findings and public policy on child welfare.
Last year, PolicyLab reported on the recession's impact on American children. Not surprisingly, it found a significant increase in child poverty. However, our researchers also found that government safety-net programs, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, blunted the recession's worst effects on children. In a congressional briefing, PolicyLab researchers stressed that policymakers should preserve such programs to protect the most vulnerable children.
Working outward from their laboratories, these researchers are adding their voices to the debate and bringing the best evidence to bear on issues that affect children and their families.