Historically, the media has played a huge role in pushing vaccine misinformation and scaring parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.
“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”
Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science
Even before Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax, the media helped fuel pertussis outbreaks by pushing the flawed research of John Wilson, which led to lawsuits against DPT vaccines and a big drop in vaccination rates.
None of it was true and the lawsuits failed, but the consequence was still that many unvaccinated kids died.
Many others in the media have done a great job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents.
Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years.
Important Points for Reporting About Vaccines
Still, despite what some folks might think, health journalists aren’t going to get in trouble for reporting about vaccines.
“…it is important to recognise that the balance of media reporting does not necessarily reflect the balance of the argument among the involved professionals – by this is meant that equal weighting might be given by the media (and thus the lay community) to those for and against the vaccine although opponents of vaccination might be a very small number, as for example happened with both pertussis and MMR.”
David Baxter on Opposition to Vaccination and Immunisation the UK Experience – from Smallpox to MMR
Remember, the way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.
You should also:
- avoid cherry picking quotes from studies or finding the single study that supports your story, leaving out the ten studies that don’t
- understand the dangers of false balance
- know who you are interviewing, avoiding anti-vaccine experts and celebrities
- understand that anecdotes are not evidence
- know that correlation does not equal causation
- understand the hierarchy of evidence and that a small study done in mice or a case report is probably not newsworthy, whereas a systemic review or meta analyses, especially if it was published in a high impact journal, is something we might need to hear about
- avoid promoting pseudoscience and anti-vaccine talking points
- know the latest immunization schedule and recommendations to get kids vaccinated and protected and if reporting on an outbreak, include information on how it could have been prevented, local immunization rates, and exemption rates, etc
Are you ready to cover your next story about vaccines or the next measles outbreak?
What to Know About Reporting on Vaccines
The way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.
More on Reporting about Vaccines
- How anti-vaxxers have scared the media away from covering vaccine side effects
- Avoiding False Balance: Vaccines in the Media
- Health journalists offer expert tips on vaccine coverage
- Covering Vaccines. Science, policy and politics in the minefield
- Facts vs. opinions: Beware of false balance in your reporting
- Sticking with the truth. How ‘balanced’ coverage helped sustain the bogus claim that childhood vaccines can cause autism
- Veteran journalist offers advice on covering disease outbreaks
- Anti-vaccination activists should not be given a say in the media
- Making media literacy great again
- When ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ is dangerous
- Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists
- The media’s MMR hoax
- The Autism Vaccine Controversy and the Need for Responsible Science Journalism
- Study – Opposition to Vaccination and Immunisation the UK Experience – from Smallpox to MMR
- Dr. Paul Offit: ‘Journalism Jail’ For Faulty Medical Reporting
- Public Health Takes on Anti-Vaccine Propaganda: Damage done, Challenges Ahead
- How the Media Fed the Anti-Vaccine Movement
- The Autism-Vaccines Myth: The Impact of the Media
- Sidelined by False Balance on a Local TV Show
- The Most Egregious Example of False Balance
- False balance about vaccines rises from the grave…again
- Jabs “as bad as the cancer”
- The Huffington Post‘s War on Medical Science: A Brief History
- Katie Couric Promotes Anticancer Vaccine Alarmism
- CMPI Responds to Katie Couric and CBS Evening News’ Coverage of Vaccines and Autism Myth
- Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says the Toronto Star is wrong.
- Autopsy of Toronto Star HPV article and the real dark side of Gardasil they missed
- HPV vaccine clinical trials being attacked by anti-vaccine religion again
- Study – Immunization safety in US print media, 1995-2005
- Media, having fueled anti-vaccination movement, switches narrative