Measles, Mumps, and the Media

April 10, 2009 at 8:31 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Media) (, , , , , , )


Mumps features in several news reports of the last few days. Measles has had a couple of mentions too. They are in the news because there has been a rise in cases of these preventable diseases recently and further outbreaks are feared. A search of Google News for MMR brings up an article from Pulse magazine that begins “The GP-led MMR catch-up campaign still appears to be floundering, with minutes of the Government’s advisory committee revealing that uptake has only risen slightly since its introduction.” Worryingly, the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) has warned that “the modest boost from the programme would bring MMR coverage for both doses of the vaccine up to 79.7% in England and 84.1% in Wales – still far short of the 95% coverage level recommended by the World Health Organization for an effective vaccination programme”. [My italics.] Meanwhile, Madeleine Brindley of the Western Mail (in a piece dated 9th April) tells us that:

UP TO 80,000 children in Wales could be at risk of catching measles because they have not had a full course of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR)

This number has apparently come to light because of a second outbreak of measles in Wales (15 suspected and two confirmed cases in children under 16 in Pembroke, Pembroke Dock and Llanelli; a further 22 people thought to be infected with measles in Llandudno). The Western Mail reports that “Experts from the National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHS) last night said the slump in MMR take-up, caused by the Wakefield scare in 1998, had allowed measles to regain a foothold in the community.” The media may well be calling it the Wakefield scare, but I think that this is a distortion as it ignores the media’s own (significant) role in the affair.

So. A bit of background first and I’ll then look at the media’s recent reporting of mumps. The Daily Telegraph reported on Dr Arthur Krigsman’s poster presentation on MMR and autism in 2006 (“US scientists back autism link to MMR”) and were also responsible (again in 2006) for publishing a piece by Beezy Marsh – Why I am terrified of trusting MMR. There was also an interview for Lorraine Fraser with Wakefield, who was described in the Telegraph as “a champion of patients who feel their fears have been ignored” and another interview (this time by Justine Picardie), describing St Andy as “a handsome, glossy-haired hero to families of autistic children”. Right. The same Daily Telegraph is now reporting that “Three times as many cases of mumps have been reported so far this year compared to last […] To the end of February this year there were almost 1,000 confirmed cases in England and Wales” It is stated that those most at risk are students who were too old to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine when it was introduced in 1988. Perhaps a future outbreak of mumps will be linked to the cohort of children who did not receive the MMR vaccine due to the scaremongering of newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph. I would now write something along the lines of “I wonder what the media will say then”, but, sadly, I think I know. They won’t say a damn thing about their part in any outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, but will only point the finger of blame elsewhere.

Which brings us to the Daily Fail. I will now repeat something I’ve written previously on this blog on the subject of the Fail’s coverage of MMR vaccination:

The Daily Mail. Halvorsen, Hitchens, Carling, the Kirsty Robinson Russian roulette article. I can’t believe that the almost endless publicity given to the MMR scare by the media is now being brushed under the carpet. The media cannot pretend that they didn’t publish these articles and nor can they pretend that the articles were unimportant or that they failed to influence.

OK, I was wrong. The media can pretend they didn’t publish the offending pieces. The Fail’s article on the trebling of mumps cases manages to point the finger at Wakefield (“He was the doctor at the centre of the link between MMR and autism which saw hundreds of people turning down the jab for their children”) and avoid mentioning their own part in the scare. This is entirely unsurprising. In fact, I’ve mentioned it before.


The JCVI; Pulse story on MMR uptake; Wales Online/Western Mail story about measles outbreak/80,000 children not being fully protected; Torygraph on mumps; Fail on mumps.

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