By Cathy Jameson
Since December, mainstream news stories dedicated large amounts of time and energy on the measles and on the measles vaccine. Sadly, much of the news that I saw was inaccurate or sensationalized. With how over-the-top the media’s been, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw this article from the Washington Post last week: News Coverage of Vaccine Controversies Drives Down Support for Vaccines. Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with some of the points being made. It’s too bad that the media didn’t remember to keep a few of these points in mind when their measles mania coverage began:
The key lesson regarding vaccines is this: the more the news media devoted attention to the political controversy, the less the public supported vaccination.
The media shot themselves in the foot with their continuous news coverage of the measles outbreak, which leads to takeaway number two from the article:
Continuing coverage of the controversy surrounding vaccines may have unfortunate consequences.
The authors’ research focused on unfortunate consequences of the media and of vaccine supporters, but they neglected to include that the public also suffers. The public, even though they are the ones targeted for vaccines, don’t seem to be an important factor:
…politicians and journalists should realize that politicizing vaccines — and reporting on the resulting conflict — can weaken the public’s support for vaccination.
Takeaway number three to politicians and journalists? Shut up.
Politicians and journalists didn’t keep themselves quiet enough. By not keeping quiet, they’re dangerously close to shooting themselves in the other foot. It looks like some of them did just that.
The round-the-clock measles mania, the hype, and the fear tactics backfired. The intense attention didn’t weaken the public. It didn’t keep people in the dark about vaccines either. Instead of keeping the public dependent on the news for information, all this talk from the politicians and from the journalists woke the people up. They woke them up. Then they threatened to take the public’s rights away.
Regular American was forced to look at vaccines, a topic many of us here know well. Some days it may have felt like it was too late to make a difference because of the backlash we’ve experienced. But with this intense measles mania, with how the media got every Tom, Dick and Harry (or was it Mark, Anne and Hillary) to go on camera to say that vaccines are safe, with how some politicians are working overtime ready to take our personal health care rights away, we have the opportunity to make a big difference now. The more they learn, the more fully informed they will hopefully be. None of that is unfortunate. Not one bit of it is. In fact, we needed that to happen.
More of the public is realizing just how much vaccines and vaccine choice directly affects them. Thanks to the media. Thanks to the politicians. Thanks to dragging this topic out for as long as they have:
And public attention to issues is often short-lived, which means citizens could easily forget political cues about vaccines, presuming that politicians stop stoking the controversy.
Stoking the controversy – the media did that so well. The politicians are doing that right now.
Let’s continue to stoke that controversy, but stoke it for a different reason: to protect our rights. Those are being threatened in several states right now. We must take action before they’re completely taken away.
It may be too late for the media and the politicians to realize what they’ve done in the last two months. But it isn’t too late for those whom they serve. It’s a beginning. So, tell your story one more time. Share your experience. Talk about vaccines, vaccine side effects, and why exemptions are necessary. Make sure your representatives are listening too. We need now more than ever to make sure that our voices are heard.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.