How Anti-Vaxxers Have Scared the Media Away From Covering Vaccine Side Effects

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

“It was the most startling side effect I’ve ever come across.” That’s how Elizabeth Miller, head of the immunization department at Public Health England, described some recent vaccine research you’ve probably never heard about: Pandemrix, a shot designed to stave off swine flu, also appears to be causing narcolepsy in some children.

Public health officials — especially ones that work in the politically fraught field of vaccine safety — don’t typically make emotive statements like that.

Then Miller told me about something that shocked her even more: The media didn’t pick up on this story at all. In fact, she characterized the reception to her 2013 research about vaccines and narcolepsy as “radio silence.”

I told Miller that I didn’t find her news all that surprising, because I ignored the Pandemrix story, too. I’ve sometimes shied away from writing about uncertainty in vaccine science for fear that my stories might have horrible consequences for public health. It seems other reporters may have been doing the same.

Vaccines are one of the single greatest contributors to public health of the past century. And in recent years, whenever anti-vaccine groups or cranks have tried to cast doubt on this fact, the country’s best health journalists have sprung into to action, working to present the facts and essentially debunk anti-vaccine pseudoscience. Vaccines, after all, are overwhelmingly safe. And people should know that.

But what happens when credible scientists discover real drawbacks to certain vaccines? How do we report on that responsibly — without giving ammunition to deniers?

Source: Vox (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
public policy, vaccines