Observations Medicine and the Media

MMR, measles, and the South Wales Evening Post

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f2598 (Published 22 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2598
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

Some critics are blaming a local media campaign against MMR 15 years ago for the recent measles outbreak in Wales, but what evidence is there of a link? Margaret McCartney reports

The sorry tale of struck-off Andrew Wakefield, first author of the Lancet’s infamous and subsequently retracted 1998 paper, barely needs repeating.1 The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is effective and safe,2 and the BMJ has discredited Wakefield’s original study as “deliberate fraud,”3 but over the past 15 years various newspapers have reported subsequently debunked “concerns.” Can we conclude that such misinformation had anything to do with the current outbreak of measles in Swansea?4 5

The question is particularly interesting given the distribution of the outbreak. From 1997 the South Wales Evening Post ran a campaign, “Parents’ fight for facts,” against the MMR vaccine. Over three months the paper published five front page headlines, three opinion articles, and 18 other articles on MMR, many of which questioned its safety. On 30 August 1997, for example, page 5 was headlined “Families tell of drastic changes in their children after vaccination. Tot’s smiles faded after jab,” above a story about a boy with a diagnosis of autism. The child’s mother was quoted: “I believe Liam’s immune system was not capable of handling the three live viruses at once . . . I am very angry and bitter.”

Nevertheless, the newspaper never said that parents should not have their children vaccinated. Indeed, accompanying the article was a shorter piece saying that the local health authority “emphasised that it was essential that parents continue to have their children immunised.”

Two …

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