Observations Medicine and the Media

From hero to zero

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39492.664225.0F (Published 28 February 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:479
  1. Michael Fitzpatrick, general practitioner, London
  1. fitz{at}easynet.co.uk

    Andrew Wakefield was once the media’s darling—but a new study unravels why they turned against him. Michael Fitzpatrick reports

    The British media, once captivated by Andrew Wakefield, the former researcher at London’s Royal Free Hospital whose pronouncements a decade ago launched the scare linking autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, have now turned against him. In February 2008 a study of measles antibodies in 250 children who had been given the vaccine (including 98 children with autism and control groups of children with special educational needs and typically developing children) provided further powerful evidence against any link with autism. The media response was extensive and overwhelmingly supportive of the case for the safety of the MMR vaccine. How times change.

    In her authoritative survey of media coverage of the MMR controversy at its height in 2002, Tammy Boyce, a researcher in media studies at Cardiff University, details the media’s influential bias against the MMR vaccine.1 As she puts it, …

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