5153.0: Wednesday, November 15, 2000 - Board 6

Abstract #14418

Ouch! Media coverage of the childhood vaccine debate

Susan P. Feinberg, BA, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston University, 715 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118, 617-971-0611, suzyf@bu.edu

The news media has traditionally played a crucial role in promoting childhood immunization programs. In summer 1999, government health agencies suspended the Rotavirus vaccine, urged manufacturers to eliminate a mercury preservative common in many vaccines, and recommended infants under six months receive the safer Salk killed-virus polio vaccine. These events triggered widespread media coverage about vaccine safety. This study examines the role of the news media in last year's vaccine debate. Findings are reported from a descriptive content analysis of major newspaper, magazine and Internet articles published between August 1999 and December 1999. Eleven articles met inclusion criteria. Topics reported on include article biases toward vaccines, main focus of articles, and attitudes toward vaccines/vaccine policy among individuals quoted in articles. Five articles had a positive bias toward vaccines/vaccine policy; 2 articles, a neutral bias; and 4 articles, a negative bias. The "positive" stories focused primarily on physicians' allaying fears of vaccine-wary parents; "neutral" stories on parents questioning the necessity/safety of vaccines; and "negative" stories on inadequate funding for vaccine safety studies, parents questioning the necessity/safety of vaccines, and restoring public trust in vaccines. Negative articles contained the greatest proportion of anecdotes about children allegedly injured or killed from vaccines (0% to 20% of total word count) compared to the positive articles (0% to 13%). Preliminary findings suggest public health officials may be mislabeling the vaccine critics as "anti-vaccine" and ignoring their real message: the need for informed consent, improved vaccine monitoring, additional studies on vaccine safety, and parental choice.

Learning Objectives: At the end of this session, the participant will be able to: 1. Articulate how the media portrayed the recent childhood vaccine controversy. 2. Discuss the implications for health promotion policy

Keywords: Media Advocacy, Child Health Promotion

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Organization/institution whose products or services will be discussed: None
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

The 128th Annual Meeting of APHA