Recommendations for Reporting About Vaccines

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.

Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment "Vaccines: A Bad Combination?"
Bob Sears appearing on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment “Vaccines: A Bad Combination?” is a great example of false balance.

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.

They are going to hear about it if they do a bad job though.

“…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.

So be careful when reporting about vaccines, as it gives you the opportunity to correct many of myths that scare people, while educating folks about the topic you are covering.

You should also:

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

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