Tag: media

Why Are You Still Worried About the MMR Vaccine?

We know why most folks got scared of the MMR vaccine.

Who's to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?
Who’s to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?

And most of us remember when most folks welcomed the MMR vaccine the end of endemic measles in the United States.

Why You Were Worried About the MMR Vaccine

Of course, that all changed when Andrew Wakefield spoke at the press conference for his 1998 Lancet paper and said:

“And I have to say that there is sufficient anxiety in my own mind of the safety, the long term safety of the polyvalent, that is the MMR vaccination in combination, that I think that it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines, that is continued use of the individual measles, mumps and rubella components… there is no doubt that if you give three viruses together, three live viruses, then you potentially increase the risk of an adverse event occurring, particularly when one of those viruses influences the immune system in the way that measles does. And it may be, and studies will show this or not, that giving the measles on its own reduces the risk of this particular syndrome developing… the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines…. People have been saying for some time, people on the periphery of autism, have been saying for some time that this may well be related to bowel damage.”

Although there was no evidence for any of that, vaccination rates went down and measles rates went up – the Wakefield Factor.

MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn't fully recover until 2012.
MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn’t fully recover until 2012.

But no, it wasn’t one person at a press conference that us lead down a decade of worry about the MMR vaccine.

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

Andrew Wakefield had plenty of help!

Not only from anti-vaccine celebrities, but from the media and their scare stories.

Why Are You Still Worried About the MMR Vaccine?

But that is all old news.

Over and over again, we see new studies that show that the MMR vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism.

Andrew Wakefield’s work was never replicated.

The MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal and doesn’t even contain aluminum, which I mention only because those are ingredients that some folks get scared about, not because they are harmful.

Vaccines are safe. The MMR vaccine is safe.

And more and more, as predicted, we are seeing why vaccines are necessary – more and more outbreaksOutbreaks that are proving to be deadly.

Why are you still worried about the MMR vaccine?

Because anti-vaccine folks are still scaring you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids!

Don’t listen to them!

More on MMR Vaccine Fears

What Ever Happened to the Lyme Disease Vaccine?

A Lyme disease vaccine, LYMErix, was approved by the FDA in 1998.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer stopped making it a few years later.

What Ever Happened to the Lyme Disease Vaccine?

Although Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection, the bacteria is transmitted to people through tick bites. Not surprisingly, the original Lyme disease vaccine didn’t attack ticks, it attacked the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in those ticks, before they could cause an infection.

A new Lyme disease vaccine would be welcomed in the 14 states where the majority of Lyme disease cases are reported.
A new Lyme disease vaccine would be welcomed in the 14 states where the majority of Lyme disease cases are reported.

After three doses, LYMErix was found to be 78% effective at preventing Lyme disease.

Unfortunately, unverified reports of vaccine side effects, especially arthritis, were hyped by the media and anti-vaccine groups and led folks to avoid the vaccine.

In their article, “Concerns Grow Over Reactions To Lyme Shots,” The New York Times even gave equal time to doctors from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, who push the idea that folks need treatment for chronic Lyme disease.

Another vaccine, ImuLyme, didn’t even bother applying for FDA licensure at the time.

“In 2002, in response to low vaccine uptake, public concern about adverse effects, and class action lawsuits, SmithKline Beecham withdrew the vaccine from the market despite the fact that both pre- and post-licensure safety data showed no difference in the incidence of chronic arthritis between those who received the vaccine and those who had not.”

The History of the Lyme Disease Vaccine

Interestingly, a more current article in The New York Times, “Lyme Disease Is Spreading Fast. Why Isn’t There a Vaccine?,” doesn’t mention the media’s role in bringing down the vaccine.

“But the company took it off the market less than four years later, citing low sales, amid lawsuits from patients who said the vaccine caused severe arthritis and other symptoms… The high cost of the vaccine and confusion over who should get it and how many doses were needed didn’t help its prospects.”

Lyme Disease Is Spreading Fast. Why Isn’t There a Vaccine?

And that’s likely why we continue to see false balance in their reporting, as we see them interview a group who is “skeptical about the new vaccine.”

A new vaccine that hasn’t even made it into phase II trials yet!

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

The media’s role in scaring folks about vaccines isn’t new.

Unfortunately, the impact of the media on the anti-vaccine movement has been felt far beyond Andrew Wakefield, the MMR vaccine and measles outbreaks.

“As we ask how to weigh public health benefits of interventions against potential risks (notably incurred by identifiable individuals), the LYMErix case illustrates that media focus and swings of public opinion can pre-empt the scientific weighing of risks and benefits in determining success or failure.”

The Lyme vaccine: a cautionary tale

Hopefully, folks have learned their lesson though. How many people have developed Lyme disease since LYMErix was withdrawn from the market? After all, Lyme disease should still be a vaccine-preventable disease.

More on the Lyme Disease Vaccine

Why Did France Take the Rotavirus Vaccine off Their Schedule?

Have you heard that France took the rotavirus vaccine off their immunization schedule?

Why?

It was supposedly because two babies died of intussusception after being vaccinated.

Rotavirus Vaccines and Intussusception

Intussusception? Wasn’t that just a risk from RotaShield, the original rotavirus vaccine?

While the risk was higher with RotaShield, the current rotavirus vaccines do have a small risk of intussusception.

france-immunization-schedule
The French immunization schedule is published in the Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire and has never included the rotavirus vaccine.

So did France take the rotavirus vaccine off of their schedule?

Technically, France hadn’t yet added the rotavirus vaccine to their schedule, but it had been available since 2006 and they did formally recommend infants get vaccinated beginning in November 2013.

That recommendation was suspended in April 2015, after they recorded 47 cases of intussusception over an 8 year period. This included 14 cases that required surgery and tragically, two deaths, including one child who died at home without getting any medical care. The other developed intussusception after the third dose of vaccine, which is not usually linked to any increased risk.

It is important to note that at least 80 other countries, including the United States, Finland, Germany, Norway, and the UK, haven’t stopped using the rotavirus vaccine.

Why not?

Because the risks of a natural rotavirus infection are much greater than the risk of intussusception. In other words, the benefits of the vaccine exceed its risks.

In France alone, for example, it is estimated that rotavirus vaccines could prevent 30,000 emergency room visits, 14,000 hospitalizations, and 8 to 17 deaths each year, all in children under the age of three years.

And even without the rotavirus vaccine, there are about 200 to 250 spontaneous intussusceptions each year in France. Fortunately, infants with intussusception can almost always be successfully treated, often without surgery.

Why Did France Take the Rotavirus Vaccine off Their Schedule?

It actually makes no sense that France stopped recommending that infants get vaccinated with one of the rotavirus vaccines.

The decision was widely condemned and there are calls to reassess the decision and put the rotavirus vaccine back on the schedule in France.

“After the surprising decision of the CTV-HCSP of April 2015 to suspend its own recommendation for widespread vaccination against Rotavirus (following a false and misleading pharmacovigilance report) against the international recommendations, we advise you to read the meta-analysis on efficacy (in comparative studies) and the effectiveness (field efficacy) of these vaccines.”

InfoVac Bulletin Novembre 11/2016

The benefits of the rotavirus vaccines far outweigh its risks.

“The estimated benefits of vaccination in our study greatly exceed the estimated risks and our results should contribute to provide further evidence for discussions around rotavirus vaccination in France.”

Larmrani et al A benefit–risk analysis of rotavirus vaccination, France, 2015

Why did France take the rotavirus vaccines off their schedule?

News of the Newark kids going to Paris to get Pasteur's rabies vaccine made the front page of the New York Times.
In 1885, four boys from New Jersey went all of the way to France to get Pasteur’s new rabies vaccine, which wasn’t yet available in the US.

That’s a good question.

Another good question? How many infants have died of rotavirus infections since they did? And when will they put the vaccine back on the schedule? Fortunately, the rotavirus vaccines are still available in France, they weren’t banned as some folks say.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that France impulsively suspended a vaccine.

In 1998, France suspended the routine vaccination of teens against hepatitis B because of the possible association of the vaccine with multiple sclerosis. This was done amid “pressure from anti-vaccine groups and reports in the French media have raised concerns about a link between HBV immunisation and new cases or relapses of MS and other demyelinating diseases,” even though “scientific data available do not support a causal association between HBV immunisation and central nervous system diseases, including MS.”

“In 1998, official concerns were first voiced over a possible association between hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccination and multiple sclerosis (MS). Despite a number of studies that have demonstrated no such association, ten years on the French population’s confidence in the vaccine remains shaken and immunization rates of infants have stagnated beneath 30%. With a chronic carriage of the virus estimated at 0.68%, it seems unlikely that France will be able to control the circulation of the virus. ”

Marta Balinska on Hepatitis B vaccination and French Society ten years after the suspension of the vaccination campaign: how should we raise infant immunization coverage rates?

Do you know where all of this has left France now?

With high rates of vaccine-preventable disease (15,000 cases of measles in 2011, with 16 cases of encephalitis and 6 deaths) and a move towards vaccine mandates. As of January 2018, all infants and toddlers in France must receive DTaP, Hib, HepB, pneumococcal, MMR, and meningococcal C vaccines.

What to Know About France Taking the Rotavirus Vaccine off Their Schedule

In no longer recommending the rotavirus vaccines, officials in France actually put infants at greater risk for sickness and death.

More on France Taking the Rotavirus Vaccine off Their Schedule

 

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

In 2002, Dan Rather did a report for 60 Minutes on “The Most Dangerous Vaccine.”

Can you guess which vaccine he was reporting on?

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

You are thinking his report was about MMR, the so-called “autism shot,” right?

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

It was around the time that the “media’s MMR hoax” was in high gear.

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

But 60 Minutes had already done a segment on “The MMR Vaccine” with Andrew Wakefield back in 2000.

The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.
The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.

No, this story was about the smallpox vaccine.

And if you had to rank vaccines from safest to most dangerous, then yes, you could say that the original smallpox vaccine, the one with the most side effects, is the most dangerous.

Fortunately, that very same smallpox vaccine helped eradicate smallpox and few of us need to even think about getting a smallpox vaccine. It is still given to some folks in the military though and is available if necessary.

The story was about a plan to vaccinate many more people, including hospital workers. At the time, there was a worry about terrorist attacks using smallpox.

“Here’s another way to do it. We can make the vaccine. Make sure we understand who’s going to get it, who’s going to be giving it. Then wait, wait for there to be one case of documented smallpox somewhere on the face of this earth and then we can move into vaccinating people, large numbers of people.”

Paul Offit, MD

Not everyone was on board with the plan though. Dr. Offit, for one, didn’t think that it was a good idea to start vaccinating people for a threat that we didn’t know would appear, especially since the older smallpox vaccine had more side effects than other, more modern vaccines.

Again, that doesn’t mean that the smallpox vaccine is dangerous.

Smallpox is dangerous and deadly. If there is a risk that you could get smallpox, then you would much rather have the smallpox vaccine, even with its side effect profile.

And fortunately, a new attenuated smallpox vaccine, Imvamune, is also available and has less side effects. Two other smallpox vaccines, ACAM2000 and APSV, which are similar to the original DryVax vaccine that was used in the US, are also still being used until Imvamune is formally approved by the FDA.

Vaccine preventable diseases are dangerous.

While they aren’t 100% without risk, vaccines, from rotavirus to HPV, are safe and necessary.

What To Know About the Most Dangerous Vaccine

All vaccines are safe and effective, but if you had to rank them, the original smallpox vaccine would be the most dangerous because it has the most side effects.

More on the Most Dangerous Vaccine

 

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

Vaccine Scare Stories and the Media

We know why some parents are hesitant to get their kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine preventable diseases.

“In today’s world, smallpox has been eradicated due to a successful vaccination program and vaccines have effectively controlled many other significant causes of morbidity and mortality. Consequently, fear has shifted from many vaccine-preventable diseases to fear of the vaccines.”

Marian Siddiqui et al on the Epidemiology of vaccine hesitancy in the United States

These vaccine-hesitant parents have become more afraid of vaccines than of the vaccine-preventable diseases that they have never seen – thanks to effective vaccine programs.

Although there have always been folks around pushing misinformation about vaccines, stoking those fears, there is no denying that vaccine scare stories in the media have played a very big role in the history of the modern anti-vaccine movement.

The Media’s Role in Pushing Vaccine Misinformation

The media has done a good job in helping vaccine controversies either get started or at least spreading to a lot of people.

In addition to helping to publicize the controversy in the first place, you are likely see false balance in their reporting, making it seem like many experts believe that these are real controversies.

“Many recent immunization programs have suffered setbacks from immunization scares. Children have been needlessly put into danger by frightened parents that refused immunization for their children after “scare stories” about particular vaccines.”

WHO on the Impact of rumours and crises

This was certainly true during the “media’s MMR hoax” surrounding Andrew Wakefield.

Why blame the media for Andrew Wakefield’s MMR scandal?

Did a case report about 12 kids really set off a panic about vaccines and autism? Of course, Wakefield deserves a lot of the blame too, but why were his papers so widely  publicized?

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

Maybe because the British media didn’t learn anything after the pertussis outbreaks of the 1970s and 80s.

In 1973, Dr. John Wilson took to the media to scare parents because he had “seen too many children in whom there has been a very close association between a severe illness, with fits, unconsciousness, often focal neurological signs, and inoculation.” What followed was a drop in DPT vaccinations in many countries and vaccine lawsuits, even though his study was later found to be seriously flawed, with most having no link to the DPT vaccine.

When articles from daily and Sunday papers in Great Britain from the time were analyzed, they were found to be “irresponsible in their attitude” towards vaccines and often depicted “rare, negative events.”

In the United States, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, one of the first celebrity, anti-vaccine pediatricians, was a frequent guest on Donahue and other talk shows during the 1970s and 80s.

And in 1982, Lea Thompson‘s anti-vaccine documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette, helped start the modern American anti-vaccine movement.

“Many activists, like Robert Kennedy Jr., have blamed some vaccines for IQ loss, mental retardation and autism. I think that activists and lawyers may be killing people by frightening the public about vaccines. My own daughter got whooping cough after our pediatrician saw a 20/20 report that scared viewers about the whooping cough vaccine and didn’t give her the final vaccination. Fortunately, my daughter recovered, and she will appear on the program. I confront one of the lawyers about “scaring people for money.”

John Stossel 20/20 “Scared Stiff: Worry in America” (2007)

What followed were vaccine scare stories about DPT “hot lots,” vaccine injury stories on Nightline, and Jenny McCarthy on Oprah. There was also a lot of Wakefield on TV, from a 60 Minutes segment in 2000 to a long interview with Matt Lauer in 2009.

Vaccine Scare Stories

What else have we seen? Stories about:

The New York Times did a report about the First Deaf Miss America, saying a reaction to a DPT shot - she didn't.
The New York Times did a report about the First Deaf Miss America, saying a reaction to a DPT shot – she didn’t. The revised story didn’t get as much attention though.
  • hepatitis B vaccine causing multiple sclerosis
  • DPT and other vaccines causing SIDS
  • the HPV vaccines causing autoimmune diseases and other side effects

Lately, the media seems to be doing a better job talking about vaccines, except for a few cases, including Katie Couric discussing the HPV vaccine on her show in 2013 and the TODAY Show letting Robert DeNiro talk about Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine movie VAXXED in 2016.

Worldwide, most vaccine scare stories are limited to tabloid type papers these days. The mainstream media is finally learning about the damage false balance in reporting can cause.

CBS News, who previously had been credited with having a four year run of “extremist views of vaccines and autism,” even ran a story recently educating viewers that dozens of studies have confirmed that the HPV vaccines are safe and that “We need to do better at protecting our children from cancers they never need to get.”

“The stories in the media have focused on anecdotal reports of adults and children who developed several different disorders after vaccination.”

Institute of Vaccine Safety Position on Hepatitis B Vaccines

Unfortunately, yesterday’s vaccine scare stories have been replaced by vaccine injury stories on Facebook and YouTube. These also focus on anecdotal reports of  children developing different disorders after getting their vaccines.

Are they the new fuel for the modern anti-vaccine movement?

Or is it talk about choice and mandates, making parents fear that they will be forced to vaccinate their kids?

Get educated about vaccines so you don’t get scared away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

What To Know About Vaccine Scare Stories

Vaccine scare stories in the media, fueled by anecdotal reports and false balance in their reporting, have helped scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

More About Vaccine Scare Stories