Immunisation

Information from the media

Newspaper articles, television documentaries and radio programmes have played a significant role in increasing parents' concerns about the MMR vaccine, the 5-in-1 vaccine and more recently the measles outbreak in Wales 2012-2013. But how much information from the media should parents believe? And is the media a good source of information for parents to learn about childhood immunisations to help them make their decisions?

It is normal for parents to be conerned about their children's health. It's important to base decisions on trustworthy scientific evidence and there is now a mass of this information available.

The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.

Many parents we interviewed noted what was reported in the media but didn't rely on it too much because they considered it to be largely sensationalised and scaremongering. Media reports could be slanted according to particular agendas of journalists or newspapers and so it was hard to get to the true facts. Some media sources, such as tabloid newspapers, were considered to be more sensationalised than other sources, such as broadsheet newspapers or Radio Four programmes. 

Several parents said that media reporting had raised their concerns and made it harder for them to make their decisions, particularly if they were first time parents. Documentaries were very powerful in adding to the confusion some parents felt about what decision to make, but a few parents said that more recent documentaries had provided reassurance by discrediting the link between inflammatory bowel disease, autism and MMR.

Some parents thought that documentaries five to ten years ago, which focused on the links with autism and MMR had been biased, had only focused on the negative aspects and had created fear amongst parents. Others said that more recent documentaries, which have suggested that MMR is safe, were also scaremongering by portraying powerful images of a child dying from measles. 

The advantages of the media as a source of information for some parents was that it was easier to watch a television programme rather than read leaflets or research articles and it was useful as a means to bring parents' attention to new findings. But many parents believed it was important to not put too much store in the information from the media and to use other sources of information as well. Much media reporting could be sensationalised, have a particular slant on the findings according to the agendas of specific journalists or newspapers and could misrepresent the true information.

The media was used by some parents to learn new information, which they then followed up by reading the published scientific study, talking to a health professional, to friends, or searching online to find more information to help them make up their own mind about what was being suggested.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated July 2013

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