A-Z

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. 

 

She had found it useful to listen to a Radio Four programme that had presented both sides of the...

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I guess from just hearing both sides of the story and also hearing about the fact that this was a very small sample size I think that really made me doubt that if, because the thing is, the MMR has been taken by children not just in England but, you know, in so many countries in the whole world I mean, if you think about how many children have taken it, it must be millions if not billions of children who've had it and so if you compare that with twelve cases then I just didn't think that was and I guess, I guess Radio Four was quite, they did show both, both arguments, so I just a, and maybe as well the papers that made such a big fuss about it are not really the papers that I read and maybe not as reputable.
 
 

She didn't trust media reports of research studies because she knew that the media could put a...

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well I think there were so many I didn't really know where to trust and you know and there was so much, everyone was saying 'Oh it causes autism,' I didn't feel that, I didn't know who to trust, I couldn't trust them really because you don't really know where they're coming from. 

I know there's so much hype that comes up and you don't really know, so in the end I just sort of didn't really take, pay any attention to them and I just decided to. And then of course it did all come out in the end, the big report that it wasn't necessarily a well founded, there was no evidence anyway really. And that was quite a relief then at that point. In some ways, I was sort of like you know 'Oh, good, so I did make the right decision.' Because I think when I had her vaccinated, when I had my daughter vaccinated it wasn't really you know it wasn't quite clear. Yes it was very difficult to know who to trust and who to go to at the time. 
 
 

She thought a lot of what she read in the newspapers was sensationalised.

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I suppose a lot of the way it was presented in the media was sensationalising it and that kind of tends to put me off, not put me off but I tend not to believe the sensationalisation of things that I, that I read and hear in the papers. But it, it does concern you because you know what, what if there was but I think I'm more prone to believe that there is no link. 

I guess because of the papers that it was, that it was in and it was in a lot of the tabloids and if you read the broadsheets there was a much more reasoned argument and they weren't saying you know that there was a link, it was very much The Mail and The Express and maybe a bit Government-bashing, a good excuse to say the Government weren't being honest and things like that, and I tend to take those things with a pinch of salt. So, so yeah. I mean I don't know that it, I still don't know a hundred percent that it's not, that there isn't but I think the proof you know the overwhelming evidence is that there, there isn't a link.

 

She knew from her own work how the media wrongly portrayed health care issues so she didn't...

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think partly because I work in healthcare, and noticing how healthcare is sometimes portrayed in the media, and in scare stories. I'm really wary of, of anything that suggests links between things, or it, that, it just really seemed quite, you know, out of all proportion. And there really didn't seem any particular evidence, as far as I was concerned, no evidence that I was happy with that, that there was a link with autism or, you know, or bowel disease in children. I just didn't really believe, didn't really believe it and felt it was a lot of, as I say a lot of hype about something that really wasn't, I don't know, that just wasn't believable for, for me anyway. And I think it just frightened an awful lot of people unnecessarily. And just very disappointing really, you know, that, I think, you know, I think the autism was a great, it, you know, something a lot of families have to deal with and it's very, very difficult. But I don't think it helped the cause any. But I think it's detracted a lot. And it just, I suppose it made me feel quite angry in a way that, I think a lot of, when you see a lot of healthcare issues portrayed in the media and it's quite irritating to be honest. I didn't, I just didn't feel there was enough evidence there to influence my decision at all.

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. 

 

Media reports of health studies often misinterpret the level of risk.

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Again I think because I'm in research I always treat media representation of health results with quite large scepticism [laughs]. So, you know, the media like to get hold of, this idea, this difference between absolute risk and relative risk they, they deliberately play on that. It was like when the pill scare came out and they said, you know, that the risk of thromboembolism was, the relative risk was, I don't know what it was, it was about twice or something if, it, on this pill rather than that pill, but they didn't say that the absolute risk was still tiny and actually still smaller than it, it would be if you were pregnant. And, but you know, what happened was that all these women got pregnant as a result. So they, you know, that sort of, whole representation of risk they, they deliberately play about with that. And I always find whenever you read anything that you know anything vaguely about in the papers you always realise how many sort of [laughs] how biased it is or, well, that it's coming from a certain angle and certain things aren't' So I, I don't think, I'm not so swayed by stuff in the media. 

 

She felt that a documentary showing a mother whose child had died of measles was scaremongering.

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well, I have to say I haven't been here when the whole MMR scare come out, I didn't live in the UK then, so I've missed all that. I've only seen that programme that actually should have proved that it is safe. And obviously it was in a way done very scaremongering as well I have to say, because they showed this woman who lost her I think 14-month-old baby from measles and they showed actually the picture of the baby who was dead, and it was very scaremongering. And obviously my first instinct was, 'I'm going to go and have him vaccinated tomorrow'. But then just thinking about it again I got a little bit angry because they did it in such a, in such a way that was actually quite unfair because it, I think they did it on purpose to instigate some fear in you. I mean why would you show a child that is dead and lying there and the mum is crying over the, the dead body? I mean it, if you're a mum it's just, it's terrible, it really is, and then obviously your first instinct is, 'I need my, I need to protect my child'.  

So it, I have, I have to say, I mean I didn't disagree with the whole programme, there were a few things that I actually thought, 'Yes, that, that actually makes sense'. But, yes, I think it's, you have to take it with a pinch of salt, all of it.

 
Text only
Read below

He thought a recent documentary was one-sided.

View full profile
Sex: Male
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well I thought that what was missing was that they didn't, that they seemed to have expert after expert after expert who, and very cleverly who seemed to be, start off anti-MMR who had suddenly came out, pro-MMR. And so either, which was very clever because you thought, oh great, you know, they're going to say what we all believe now that, that this is not as safe as they make out. And then the whole conclusions seemed to be NHS propaganda in that this is a much safer alternative. How interviewing a poor child who had suffered brain damage through wild Measles was of course valid, but what they didn't do was interview a parent or, or indeed a child who had been apparently affected by the MMR. 

The, the balance didn't seem to be there, we never got the parents who were talking about the possible MMR link were, were dismissed as kind of lunatic fringe or charlatans. And we are, we're people who have suddenly had to cope with a massive change in our children following the MMR. Now, whether that, whether there is a scientific link we don't know.

 

Media reports have created fear amongst parents and some of the reports weren't accurate enough.

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think they are scaring us a little bit more than they should be. I think new-time mums, everything's a worry to you, you know, you've just brought a baby into the world, you feel that you can't give this baby enough. And then there's people scaring on every aspect of having a baby, that if you give it too much of this that's wrong, and if you do this that's wrong. And I just feel that they should be more careful who they're scaring because you just want to protect this little human being that you've created and you'd do anything not to... And I think some of the reports just aren't accurate enough, just some of your normal papers, your daily papers you just think, 'You've just scared me from that, that one comment. Whereas where's the fact, where's the professor saying it or, you know, where's the evidence?' I know some people will just read it and go, 'Right, that's that, there's no more jabs in my baby' you know. And it's easy to do that. I think they have scared a lot of people out of it. A few of my friends are scared. I'm scared but I've put it to the back of my mind because I know I'm doing the right thing.

 

Suggests there are better places than the media for getting information about MMR and other...

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So I think it is very, very, very important here and everywhere else to educate people, to inform them. Not misinform them, which is what the media usually does. If you buy a tabloid, they just care about selling papers, and the best way to sell them is to shout horrible stories, you know, and, and pick the one in a million case where something went wrong, instead of stressing that the other 999,999 actually didn't have any problems and were protected, yes. The media are always using sensation to sell. But on the other hand you are the parent, you have your child to look after and you want the best for your child. You shouldn't listen to sources of information which are not the right ones. And I think if, if we don't know much about something, we should go and ask the right people. There's always your GP, your health care or a nurse that can give you the information you require, can actually, not just tell it to you but give you access to documentation, where you can make your mind up by yourself without just listening to it on TV or on tabloids. So I think it's very important to educate people the right way, to give them the proper information. And, yes, even then people are still reluctant to do that well it's very difficult. But I think in this case of the MMR vaccine there was a lot of misinformation, which led to people having these problems.

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.

 

She will read the original research articles rather than just the media reporting of it.

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well certainly the fact that, that it has been talked about in the media is what will make me want to acquire information. But I will go to the original articles rather than just using the information from the media, yes.  

And why is that?

Well because the, the media necessarily can, can give only part of the information. There's, there are space constraints, there are information constraints that statistics are complicated to present and, and the media may play a role in alerting to the fact that there are studies which show that there is a statistical risk, I want to go and see what is the extent of this statistical risk. And I want to know exactly what studies have been, have been done and, and on what populations and what are their findings.
 
 

Felt the media reporting always had a certain spin or gloss and didn't recognise the concerns of...

View full profile
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Father' I think it, the way it appeared to us was that there, there was obviously the generalised story, which is, 'MMR is completely safe' and, and given the data set that's been examined that's probably a valid conclusion to, to draw. And so that's the one that everyone put across. And every time it's reassessed and they said, 'New survey says that it's completely safe' they're examining the same data set. What they don't always recognise or, and they certainly don't put in their editorials or whatever, is that actually that data set doesn't include certain children. And when you include those children there's, there's more of a concern. But obviously, you know, when you're trying to get herd immunity, you're trying to take everyone to take a vaccination, you won't necessarily put all the bad points in because you, you want everybody to take it as, as much as possible. So-

Mother' I think we felt that there'd been a lot of gloss -

Father'  Yes

Mother' -  put on it. There wasn't acknowledgement that there are some children who should not be vaccinated, even though obviously the pharmaceutical companies say that themselves, that, you know, whenever you see anything about MMR on the television or whatever it, it's always put with a certain spin, and that, you know, parents who don't vaccinate are selfish and, you know, you're silly to have concerns.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated July 2013

donate
Previous Page
Next Page