Week 12 Blog Post- Casey Krutz

November 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the readings for this week, the overarching theme appears to be that the public is uncertain about the vaccine-autism issue and thus will be most likely to believe information that is direct and consistent with their personal beliefs on the matter. Offit and Kerr’s pieces both point out interesting ideas to support this thesis.

In his chapter 10 of his book, “Science and Society,” Offit takes a negative stance on the portrayal of the vaccine-autism situation. Offit notes that our culture is dominated by cynicism and scandal, so many people have negative attitudes toward doctors, scientists, and public health officials, thinking that they cater to the pharmaceutical companies that are primarily concerned with making a profit. The public is constantly swayed by movies and television that pharmaceutical companies are “evil.” Offit also brings to attention the negative force of the internet medium. In terms of the vaccine-autism controversy, parents decide they don’t want their children to get MMR or thimerosal-containing vaccines, because they think that the vaccines will cause autism. These parents claim to have done their research on this, but their research is coming from a variety of websites on the internet. Offit views this as problematic, since the internet is unfiltered and advice can be misleading. People do not take the time or have the ability to understand scientific studies on the vaccines and autism to realize the truth. Instead they are more likely to be swayed by a personal, emotional experience. Some people have brought faith into the issue to persuade people against thimerosal vaccines. Others have tried to scare the public. It doesn’t help matters that the public has a tendency towards alternative medicines, because they are constantly looking for other solutions, such as antibiotics or therapies to cure autism, though this can be harmful.  Overall, in this chapter, Offit focuses on how the American public views the environment, world and medical companies in a negative way and thus, they have anti-vaccine perceptions convinced that these thimerosal vaccines lead to autism.

In his piece, “The Autism Spectrum Disorders/Vaccine Link Debate: A Health Social Movement,” Kerr also holds a somewhat negative view, but is also hopeful for change.  Kerr presents that the most consistent theme across debates of the vaccine-autism controversy was uncertainty.  While over the past 10 years, parents of children with autism and activist groups have hypothesized that mercury found in vaccines is partially or completely responsibly for their children developing autism, the U.S. government, Institute of Medicine (IOM), and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) deny this hypothesis and say that there is no scientific evidence to support that there is a causal relationship between the two. Kerr also explains why activist messages may be accepted by the public than medical professionals. Kerr presents that activists are able to keep their messages simple and direct, denying the uncertainty of the issue, while medical officials and the government take a more restricted approach respecting scientific uncertainty. The public is able to understand the concise and direct message better and it is more likely to support their own personal experiences, which result in the public believing the message since it is what they want to hear. The ability of activists to portray a pleasant picture has been successful, while mainstream medicals too often present inconclusive research and no hope for a cure. In order to be more successful in reaching the public with their message, Kerr suggests that mainstream medicine needs to reach out and offer support to families, be more understanding, and most importantly offer hope.

While both Offit and Kerr present that people are being convinced to be anti-vaccine, they give different reasoning for this. Offit puts more of an emphasis the negativity in the world leading to people believing this. This includes the negative ways in which people view the environment, pharmaceutical companies, and their ability to find support for their personal views in religious leaders, and opinionated pieces on the internet. Kerr focuses more on the influence of activist groups and their ability to portray their message in a more direct and less uncertain way than scientists and medical professionals do. Offit presents his article with negativity of the public and their perception of the issue with no solution to the problem, while Kerr offers hope in that if mainstream medicals frame their message in a way more appealing to the public, it could become more effective and engage them more.

Based on the readings, I question:  What solutions do you have in terms of how the medicals, doctors, and scientists can better frame their message so they appeal to the public, yet still present the scientific truth on vaccinations and autism?

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