The Panic Virus
Seth Mnookin, Black Inc
This investigative report by Seth Mnookin puts forth the case that scaremongering by some sections of the media placed programs which were directed to provide children with immunity against previously common illnesses in jeopardy.
While he is sympathetic to the feeling that “Parents trying to raise their children had been taken advantage of by a society they had trusted and now were determined to make it right”, he believes that the panic caused by false information has been far more deadly than any of the side effects of vaccination.
This “dangerous alternative” he suggests is more common in the “granola belt” where whole foods and naturopathy were promoted. This is despite the beneficial results following widespread campaigns to control diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and measles. He outlines the distressing case-histories of children who developed autism in the period following some vaccinations and the link perceived in the use of a mercury compound as a sterilising preservative in multi-dose vials of vaccine.
He recognises the difficulties facing the medical profession in answering the critics of vaccination programs when people who have been deeply affected are put on public display through the media. As he puts it: “Complex science had been poorly translated for a general audience. Inevitably it seemed data was misinterpreted, preliminary results were assumed to be definitive, tiny sample sizes were blown out of proportion and the mere act of conducting an experiment was taken as an admission that a given hypothesis was correct.”
He is particularly critical of the populist presentations by Oprah Winfrey on the subject when expert medical opinion is not given a fair go. “The combination of ambiguity and authority is hard enough to understand if you are sitting across the table from a scientist; it is an exponentially more challenging point to convey when filtered through media outlets that eschew nuance and depth in favour of attention grabbing declarations”