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31/08/2008

*Updated / correction* MMR: When will the web trump our base fears (and local editorial agendas)?

observer MMR.jpg

Image: An Observer front-page headline, because a Daily Mail cover would have been lazy blogging...

* Correction - I missed out the "online" from "online editor" in Martin Stabe's new job title - bloody bloggers and their fly-by-night self-subbing, eh? *

In taking to task the UK media for its scaremongering around the alleged link between the MMR vaccine (which immunises against measles, mumps and rubella), Ben Goldacre of the Bad Science blog, takes a look at the meta-story, the way that vaccine scares, even in a world of global news and information availablilty, are highly localised.

 

The MMR and autism scare, for example, is practically non-existent outside Britain. But throughout the 1990s France was in the grip of a scare that hepatitis B vaccine caused multiple sclerosis.

 

In the US, the major vaccine fear has been around the use of a preservative called thiomersal, although somehow this hasn’t caught on here, even though that same preservative was used in Britain. In the 1970s there was a widespread concern in the UK, driven again by a single doctor, that whooping-cough vaccine was causing neurological damage.

Isn't that interesting? Aren't there vaccine scares the world has known box outs to complement the stories about the the potential risks of a given vaccine.

Smacks of irresponsibility, really, on the part of the news media. This is a highly emotive issues and lives have been put at stake.

Ben continues:

 

What the diversity of these anti-vaccination panics helps to illustrate is the way in which they reflect local political and social concerns more than a genuine appraisal of the risk data, because if the vaccine for hepatitis B, or MMR, is dangerous in one country, it should be equally dangerous everywhere; and if those concerns were genuinely grounded in the evidence, especially in an age of the rapid propagation of information, you would expect the concerns to be expressed by journalists everywhere. They’re not.

Will this change, ever? Well I guess we'll need to wait for the next scare to find out, but the power of gossip, of paranoia to trump readily available facts and access to information my be something that stays with us even into the age of the web.

: : On a personal note: Friends raised eyebrows when I mentioned my first child had had his MMR shots. Really? Weren't we concerned, y'know, about the autism risk?

Most didn't have kids - we were among the first in our circles of friends to start a family - so they hadn't looked at the information closely, all they had ringing in their ears were the dread-laden headlines that been doing the rounds for years...

If it bleeds, it leads. If it taps into the worst fears of parents, it leads. Meanwhile thousands of children went without their MMR shots and have been exposed to the risks of these diseases.

Via Martin Stabe - newly hired as the online editor of Retail News - congratulations, Martin!

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