Group Discussion Topic Proposal
Nicki Karimipour & Jessie King
1. Introduce key arguments related to a mass media controversy:
The impact of universally recommended vaccines for children has been touted as one of the top ten achievements in public health during the 20th century (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1999). However, there has much been public debate regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations. A group of articles referred to as the Wakefield studies were released in 1999 linking the MMR vaccine to autism. While these studies have since been pulled, fear of vaccines was introduced into the media.
Vaccination involves the injection of a killed microbe in order to stimulate the immune system against the microbe, thereby preventing disease. The body builds antibodies to protect itself, initiating active immunity, a process that will usually last a lifetime (CDC, 2011). The philosophy behind vaccination is that the risk of disease is more threatening than the risk of an adverse reaction to the vaccine that will prevent it (Dawson, 2004). However, there is a risk for adverse reaction to the vaccine. Complications do occur, ranging from an upset stomach to lifetime disability or death. Additionally, vaccinations don’t always work. A person may get a vaccination and still contract the disease. Is this really worth the risk? Considering the relatively low rates of incidence for many of these diseases in the US, people today might be more likely to answer “no”.
2. Briefly show why this issue is important:
Increased media attention regarding the safety of vaccinations could lead to increased testing and safer vaccines, as was the case in the 1990’s (Gangarosa et al., 1998). However, increased testing could lead to delayed introduction of new vaccines as testing would likely take more time and money. Additionally, fear of vaccinations could lead to reduced rates of immunization which could lead to resurgence of disease. Gangarosa, Galazka, Wolf, et al. (1998) found strong evidence of a causal relationship between movements against the pertussis vaccine and the occurrence of pertussis epidemics.
3. Briefly outline some potential implications: Increased media attention regarding the safety of vaccinations could lead to increased testing and safer vaccines, as was the case in the 1990’s (Gangarosa et al., 1998). However, increased testing could lead to delayed introduction of new vaccines as testing would likely take more time and money.
Additionally, fear of vaccinations could lead to reduced rates of immunization which could lead to resurgence of disease. Gangarosa, Galazka, Wolf, et al. (1998) found strong evidence of a causal relationship between movements against the pertussis vaccine and the occurrence of pertussis epidemics.
4. Demonstrate that there are valid criticisms and defenses of current media practice in relation to your proposed issue:
-Criticisms: The obvious criticism is that Jenny McCarthy is a celebrity and has a great deal of influence. When she goes on national TV and makes claims about the efficacy or need for vaccines, which can be problematic because she has the power to change people’s views and take action to not vaccinate their children. Another problem is that people will equate her child’s situation to their own child’s situation, which may not necessarily be true. People may also assume that changing the child’s diet, like McCarthy did, can “cure” autism or lessen the symptoms that are not medically proven. Another criticism is that if people take her advice, populations could become under vaccinated and diseases that were previously obliterated could reemerge.
-Defenses: The defenses to the issue are that parents should have the right to choose what is best for their children. Freedom is an important aspect of health despite the fact that vaccinations are mandatory. Another defense is that people’s experiences with health are different. What works for someone may not work for another person, i.e. how McCarthy used diet changes to lessen the symptoms of her son’s autism
5. Generate excitement/interest related to the topic:
We hope to stir up a lively debate about this issue. Clearly there are strong opinions on either side. Particularly, we’d like to examine the media coverage (print and TV) to see if stories were covered responsibly and accurately (see below).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1999). Achievements in public health, 1900-1999 Impact of vaccines universally recommended for children – United States, 1990-1998. MMWR, 48(12), 243-248.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Frequently Asked Questions about vaccine safety. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/Common_questions.html.
Dawson, A. Vaccination and the Prevention Problem. (2004). Bioethics, 18(6), 515-530.
Gangarosa, E. J., Galazka, A. M., Wolfe, C. R., Phillips, L. M., Gangarosa, R. E., Miller, E., & Chen, R. T. (1998). Impact of anti-vaccine movements on pertussis control: the untold story. The Lancet, 351(9099), 356-361.