November 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We live in a world where media has the power to alter our values, perceptions, and beliefs. Often, just the mention of a certain issue in a news article or even an editorial piece causes us to question our feelings and what we believe about that issue. For many, this is evident in the recent upheaval involving the relationship between vaccines and the development of autism. The proposed link between the two, no matter how legitimate the source, has forced people to take a closer look at the risks in immunization. Taylor, in “Vaccines and the changing epidemiology of autism,” discusses possible reasons for increases in the recent prevalence of autism and the lack of evidence involving the link between vaccinations and autism. Evans, Stoddart, and Condon talk about the effect that the proposed link has on parents and reasons that they believe or discount the link. When looking at the readings together, it is clear that media plays an enormous role in how people feel about the link between immunization and autism and that their perceptions can lead to potential dangers in society.

In a study on the epidemiology of autism, Taylor discuses how the prevalence and incidence of autism has changed overtime as well as potential reasons for the change. When it comes to a disorder such as autism, the causes are largely unclear.  While there is a large genetic component involved, it seems that genetics is not everything. In the article, Taylor talks contrasts prevalence and incidence. According to Taylor, “prevalence reflects the number of individuals in a given population who have a defined disorder,” while, “incidence is the number of new cases of the condition occurring in a population over a defined period of time.” Despite popular belief, an increase in prevalence does not equal an increase in incidence.  Therefore, while there has been an increase of autism cases reported in the current population, it does not mean that there has been an increase in new cases overall. It is likely that the expansion of definitions of autism as a spectrum disorder coupled with the fact that more people are accepting of the label of autism have contributed to the increase in the prevalence of autism in recent years. Taylor discusses the illegitimacy of Wakefield’s article in the Lancet and that, in actuality, “There is no necessary correspondence between the MMR injection and the onset of autism, which could occur anytime after.”

Despite the evidence examined and presented in Taylor’s article, people still continue to believe that there is a causal link between the MMR injection and autism; parents often feel that the risks involved in vaccinating their children outweigh the potential benefits that could come from it. Evans et al. looked at parents perspectives on MMR vaccination and what influenced parents’ ultimate decisions to vaccinate their children or not. By conducting focus groups of parents, they found that both immunisers and non-immunisers held similar anxieties about immunizing their children despite their ultimate decisions regarding the issue.  The study discussed four main factors that tended to play a role on whether or not these parents vaccinated their children: “beliefs about the risks and benefits of MMR compared to contrasting diseases, information from the media and other sources about safety of MMR, confidence and trust in the advice of health professionals and attitudes towards compliance with this advice”, and finally, “views on the importance of individual choice within government policy on immunization.” In discussion of media’s effects on parent perspectives, it was evident that the publicity of the potential link between vaccines and autism raised “doubt in people who had not previously questioned the safety of immunization.” As a result of media, parents began to question the science behind vaccines that have been contributing to public health for so long.

The problem is that, because diseases such as measles and mumps have been practically eradicated for so long, people have forgotten how dangerous they really are.  As a result, many believe that contracting those diseases is worth the risk in comparison to the possible link between immunization and autism. If more and more parents begin to hold these beliefs, then we face the possibility of seeing diseases arise that have not been present in decades. Parents tend to focus on their own child, which is understandable.  However, in doing so, they fail to recognize the detrimental effects that not immunizing their child could have on the larger society.

How can we fix this? Once an issue has been so much as mentioned in the media, it is then a constant thought in people’s minds. How can we get people to understand the importance of immunization and the lack of science that actually exists behind the link presented in the media?

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  1. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the media will change in the way they report this issue. As discussed in class today when the media could present an informative talk that focuses on truthful science about vaccinations, this scientific talk would be boring to the public. Thus, the media will continue to report this issue as a controversial debate, even if it means bringing in non-credible sources to discuss the issue at hand. Unfortunately, people like the false hope they get and believe that autism may be caused by vaccinations. They see not getting vaccines as a solution to not get Autism, when in fact by not getting vaccinations they are actually endangering themselves more health wise. I think that it is up to health care professionals and science to get the word out about how endangering not getting immunization is and some of the results of not doing so. The media has been successful in using scare tactics to push people away from getting vaccines, so perhaps if scientists and health care professionals use scare tactics to get them to show the importance of immunization, it will be effective.

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