We’ve just taken Gwen for the MMR jab, and I’m worried.
I’ve been reading some articles on measles in Swansea, and the claimed ill-effects of triple vaccination. My head is full of conflicting concerns.
We’re going to that part of Wales soon. Will the lack of herd immunity mean that Austin and Gwen catch measles anyway, even though they’re both now vaccinated? Apparently, around one or two of every 20 people won’t be immune, even if they have the jab. So in an epidemic, they could still go down with the illness. And, if one of our children does catch it, will they develop measles encephalitis, and die, like Roald Dahl’s poor daughter Olivia?
But then, on the other hand, could Gwen become autistic shortly after having her vaccine, like this woman is convinced her son did? Although Andrew Wakefield’s research was completely discredited, there are still plenty of parents who swear their child ended up with autism because of MMR. Wakefield’s research was funded off the back of very real concerns – by parents of autistic children, who were willing to instruct their lawyers to pay tens of thousands of pounds for scientific evidence showing a link. So where did their conviction come from? There’s no smoke without fire, some say.
To be honest, I didn’t really think twice about vaccination, until afterwards, when I started reading all the recent articles. In my view, the NHS has enough clued-up, smart people working for it to be trusted when it says that the triple vaccine is the safest route. I’d take that as more reliable than anecdotal evidence, and the results of an unethical small-scale study carried out by a doctor who stood to gain financially from the results.
But still: there’s a small, nagging doubt at the back of my mind about whether we’ve done the right thing.
There’s one thing I can be sure of: this most recent debate is a media storm about a media storm. Which is frightening an awful lot of people.
I was raised in an era when journalists were seen as gatekeepers to the truth. When there were only three, and then – to great fanfare, and disapproval from traditionalists – four television channels. ‘Scoops’ were the foodstuff of the press, and editors sought to splash front pages with controversial viewpoints that shook up the natural order. Even if, sometimes, there was only a marginal chance that those viewpoints were accurate.
But, we didn’t realise that at the time. And, even now when I know better, the media still has the power to send me into a head-spin of confusion when it comes to the safety of people I care about the most. It’s just the way I was raised: “these people know what they are talking about; we should believe them”.
Will this kind of thing still happen by the time Austin and Gwen are adults? Recently, commentators have said things have moved on since the Wakefield scandal. Reporters and editors are held in check by a new public awareness of how the media works. So news agencies are less likely to take a minority viewpoint, like Wakefield’s, and give it more airspace than more proven facts, just so they can generate striking headlines and increase revenue.
I’d like to hope we are heading towards a brave new era of clued-up citizens, who can spot misinformation a mile off. Austin and Gwen are children of Leveson, not of Reith. They will be raised on Twitter, Wikipedia and blogs, able to cross-check any story put out by the more traditional media against a cacophony of opinions and knowledge held by non-media professionals.
This background hum of information and misinformation may turn out to be confusing. But I think that, by the time they reach adulthood, Austin and Gwen will have learnt enough about how the media works to be able to tell the wheat from the chaff. After all, a recent publication by a coalition of more than 90 organisations, including the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, has even gone so far as to suggest five year-olds should be taught about airbrushing in the media. This is the kind of education our children have to look forward to. It’s exactly the kind of media literacy they need.
I’m sure that, in the future, fears about safety will still throw many into the arms of people who stand to make a profit from increased worries. So we must do our best to equip our youngsters with the skills to make up their own minds, and to shout down the scaremongers.
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