Here, the Daily Mail publish an article on a proposal to inoculate children on a same day surgery visit [PDF of original article here]. The article has been amended since I first read it last night [PDF of this morning’s version here].
A few points worth remembering:
- The benefits of MMR outweigh the risks [note: link goes to PDF]
- The available evidence shows that the MMR scare started by Andrew Wakefield (and stoked by the media) was baseless
- The conclusion of Wakefield et al’s Lancet paper was disowned by several of Wakefield’s co-authors and the paper was eventually fully retracted by the journal
- When it comes to poor reporting of science and health, the Daily Mail has form
The Mail’s rather clumsy headline is “MMR 1 off ‘6 inoculation’ jabs introduced to babies on ‘super vaccination’ day“. The writer is credited as “Daily Mail Reporter“.
The first line of the article reads as follows:
A ‘super vaccination’ intensive day for babies just after they turn one will involve three injections including the controversial MMR jab
The Mail can only claim that the MMR vaccine is “controversial” because they themselves have helped to manufacture a controversy.
The Mail go on to tell us that:
Primary care trusts in England and Wales last week received the advice with government advisers hoping multiple inoculations will improve the uptake of the MMR vaccine which was previously claimed – though now discredited – to a link to autism.
I’m not entirely sure why the Mail (and others – the BBC also saw fit to mention it) have referred to the discredited link to autism. Surely it would be sufficient to state that it was hoped that multiple inoculations would improve uptake of the MMR vaccine.
To my mind, it would be more informative to mention, say, levels of MMR coverage in England and Wales than to mention a thoroughly discredited allegation of a link between MMR and autism.
The decision to immunise all the diseases at once, including MMR will create concern with some parents about the risk of side effects with the added possibility that families will not allow their babies to be inoculated in this way.
Vague comments about side effects? Check. Speculation about resistance to vaccination? Check. So far, so Daily Mail. Want to know who they go to for a quote? Why, Jackie Fletcher of the anti-vaccine pressure group Jabs.
The Mail article also claims that:
Records show that take-up of the MMR vaccine dropped after 1998 following the autism claims.
Actually, records show that (having fallen from 91% in 1997 to 88% in 1998) in the two years following Wakefield’s paper vaccine coverage remained at 88% in the UK. Take-up of the vaccine then dropped to 85% in 2001, 83% in 2002, and reached a low of 80% in 2003. As Ben Goldacre notes, the paper itself was barely reported on in 1998:
In 2001 and 2002 the scare began to gain momentum. Wakefield published a review paper in an obscure journal, questioning the safety of the immunisation programme, although with no new evidence.
The coverage rapidly began to deteriorate, in ways which now feel familiar and predictable […] Newspapers and celebrities began to use the vaccine as an opportunity to attack the government and the health service
It wasn’t simply the publication of Wakefield’s original paper that caused vaccine uptake to drop, it was the reporting of newspapers such as the Daily Mail. Well, I say “reporting” – perhaps “outright scaremongering” would be more accurate.
The amended version of the article carries the same headline but is now credited to David Derbyshire.
The words “controversial” and “autism” are excised from the piece. The description of Jackie Fletcher’s background and her quotes are also removed.
The following is added, making it clear that speculation in the previous version regarding side-effects and resistance from parents was unwarranted:
The Department of Health said parents would not be forced to have all the jabs at the same time. A spokesman said: ‘Independent scientific research has shown that this is completely safe and effective.’
Version two of the article might as well have been published separately under a new headline. It is, essentially, a different article to the earlier shoddy piece of journalism published under an anonymous byline.