Reporters – Follow The Science (Please!)

12 12 2012

Immunizations are a perpetually hot topic. We’ve been getting questions from reporters for over a decade about the need for vaccines, the efficacy of vaccines, and invariably the safety of vaccines.

Reporters have been doing stories on vaccines for a lot longer than a decade, but I remember 1999 as the year that things kicked off on the national scene. The television program ‘20/20′ ran shows featuring parents who claimed that various vaccines caused SIDS, multiple sclerosis, autism, and a variety of other illnesses in themselves or their children.

All these years later, when study after study after hundreds of studies have proven the safety of vaccines, many reporters still insist on representing the “other” side of the story when the subject is vaccine safety.

When I get a call from a reporter asking to speak to a parent whose child has been affected by a vaccine-preventable disease, I ask if they are also speaking to parents who believe their child has been adversely affected by a vaccine.

The answer is always yes.

The reporter will say that he or she just wants to present a balanced story.

After all of these years, and after all of these studies, I can’t help but wonder what their definition of balanced may be.

When I read a story about the importance of wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle or a motorcycle, there is often included in the story an anecdote about someone not wearing a helmet while riding who was consequently harmed by the lack of said helmet.

Never, in the same story, do I read about riders who were saved from harm by not wearing helmets, although I’m sure there are people in this world who believe it is safer to ride without helmets. For some reason, reporters don’t feel the need to present the anti-helmet point of view in order to have a balanced story.

The use of seat belts in cars has been mandatory in all states since the 1980s. When writing about car accidents, reporters frequently include stories about the injuries sustained when so-and-so was not wearing a seat belt.

I don’t believe I’ve ever read such a story where the reporter also highlighted incidents of those saved from harm by not wearing seat belts. I know of at least one person who firmly believes that not wearing a seat belt is safer than wearing one, but I have not yet seen her anti-seat belt view used to provide balance in a car accident story.

Reporters who include opinions from parents who believe their children were adversely affected by vaccines, and who include junk science from those pretending to be scientists, all in the name of having a “balanced” piece on vaccines, simply haven’t done their homework.

They are behind on the science, and the stories they write end up creating fear and confusion on the part of parents.

If a reporter feels that it is important to present views not substantiated by science, they should do an opinion piece rather than a news story.

At PKIDs, we sincerely appreciate those writers who look for and use the facts. As parents of children affected by disease, it’s easy for us to have lab work done and determine by the results that our child is infected with a particular disease.

If there is a vaccine to prevent that particular disease, we can say that it’s probable that, had our child been vaccinated, he or she would not have become infected. But, since not all vaccines work for everyone, we cannot say for certain. We can only talk about what vaccine-preventable diseases have done to our families.

We’re not painting all reporters with the same brush. Many reporters follow the science and come back with a fact-based story.

For those who do not, we ask that you make clear in your next story which parts are unsubstantiated, and which are based on fact.

Let’s stop the unnecessary scaremongering of the public.

 
By Trish Parnell