Canadian paper retreats after vaccine story sparks furor

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 18 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h890

Vaccines need a Saatchi makeover.

It is despicable that a newspaper in Toronto ran a scare story about human papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine, considering the clinical research has moved onto second generation studies assessing aspects such as scheduling of Vaccines [1]. [2].

Despite being a hugely successful modern medical intervention, Vaccines have a growing image perception problem. Maurice Saatchi, the icon of advertising world has said ‘In democratic politics, perception is reality. If the people perceive a problem, there is one’. [3]. This statement aptly summarises the unfair image problem facing the Vaccines, which protect against devastating and deadly diseases. Many in western world are completely ignorant of the devastating impact of some diseases paradoxically because vaccines have immensely successful in preventing them.[4].

Society accepts use of shocking images to nudge smokers in quitting the harmful tobacco addiction. In a similar way, to convey the health benefits of Vaccines, we should use shocking pictures of people harmed by vaccine preventable diseases. Examples would a child crippled by Polio or Measles encephalitis or young women like 27 year old Jade Goody, the reality television star, who died of cervical cancer.

Combating this image problem of Vaccines certainly needs the deft hand of Saatchi and others in his trade. Saatchi , who is behind the hugely controversial ‘Medical innovation bill’ is more likely secure his legacy by promoting the benefits of Vaccines using ‘image makeover tools’ for which he is renowned rather than spoiling his reputation in history books by promoting a ‘quacks charter ‘ [5].

1 McCarthy M. Canadian paper retreats after vaccine story sparks furor. BMJ 2015;350:h890.

2 Jit M, Brisson M, Laprise J-F, et al. Comparison of two dose and three dose human papillomavirus vaccine schedules: cost effectiveness analysis based on transmission model. BMJ 2015;350:g7584–g7584. doi:10.1136/bmj.g7584

3 Saatchi M. Saatchi Bill: People power drives the fight to cure cancer. 2014. (accessed 21 Feb2015).

4 Lambert P-H, Siegrist C-A. Science, medicine, and the future: Vaccines and vaccination. BMJ 1997;315:1595–8. doi:10.1136/bmj.315.7122.1595

5 Dyer C. Controversial Saatchi bill passes report stage in House of Lords. BMJ 2014;349:g7680–g7680. doi:10.1136/bmj.g7680

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 February 2015
Santhanam Sundar
Consultant Oncologist
Nottingham University Hospital NHS trust