9 The MMR debate in the United Kingdom: vaccine scares,
statesmanship and the media
Stöckl and Anna
In 1998, British surgeon and researcher
Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the British journal The Lancet ,
suggesting that there was a link between the triple vaccine against measles,
mumps and rubella (MMR) and the development of
South Korea’s development of a hepatitis B vaccine and national prevention strategy focused on newborns
Eun Kyung Choi and Young-Gyung Paik
transmitted at high rates through everyday activities, public panic focused
particularly on transmission through indirect oral contact, especially through
saliva. Most commentary in the media drew attention to the habit of sharing
glasses in Korean drinking culture. Most social drinking in the workplaces or
family gatherings tended to involve shared glasses, leaving individuals almost
no choice. Then, after the emergence of the hepatitis B epidemic, public panic
. Medical consensus was always against Wakefield and his small group of allies – but the controversy made for a great media story. Over the following years, uptake of MMR dropped. Multiple studies showed that there was no evidence for a link between MMR and autism, and in 2004 ethical violations and poor research practices were exposed in Wakefield's work. After that point, vaccination rates recovered once more. But the crisis has become infamous as an example of how public health authorities can struggle in the modern, digital world to overcome misinformation
politically necessary, in line with the government's financial priorities. At the same time, developments in bureaucratic technologies for identifying and managing such risks had been harnessed and promoted by health professionals and co-opted by the state. 17 As Virginia Berridge has argued, post-war public health is characterised by the use of mass media, evidence-based medicine and a focus on individual behaviour. 18 The chapters of this volume also emphasise these changes. But what does this activity say about how the state constructed the public? Moreover, what does
against measles, with some even resorting to compulsion. 2 Both in academic and popular media, anti-vaccinationism has been blamed for these trends. In the global North, communities of activists, buoyed by the internet and social media, have caused headaches even in long-established public health systems. 3 Attacks on health workers in the twenty-first-century Global Polio Eradication Initiative showed that resistance to vaccines was still very much a live issue in low-income countries, too. 4 Even where the scientific case has been successfully made that vaccines
Perkin, The Rise of Professional Society, p. 477.
146 Cooter, ‘The Ethical Body’, p. 458. For more on Thalidomide,
see Stefan Timmermanns and Valerie Leiter, ‘The Redemption of
Thalidomide: Standardizing the Risk of Birth Defects’, Social Studies
of Science, Vol. 30 (2000) pp. 41–71.
147 On changing media attitudes in the 1960s, see Ayesha Nathoo, Hearts
Exposed: Transplants and the Media in 1960s Britain (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) pp. 86–102; Jane Gregory and Steve
Miller, Science in Public: Communication, Culture and Credibility
Fighting a tropical scourge, modernising the nation
the twentieth century it became a cornerstone for major
transformations in vaccine production capacity and regarding the use of
vaccines to fight other diseases in Brazil.
I see these vaccines as complex sociotechnical constructs
involving many different phenomena: the interactions of microorganisms, culturemedia and other physico-chemical and biological components that produce
substances with alleged or proven immunisation effectiveness
, and specific campaigns to vaccinate young adults to protect them from the disease.
It is clear from contemporary media coverage and internal government files that the British people wanted protection from polio. As in many Western countries, large charities solicited donations to polio research and care and there was extensive interest in the massive field trials of a new vaccine being developed in the United States in 1954 and 1955. 1 Even when the vaccine became available, many of these charities continued to provide aftercare and support
that data are not comparable.
Source : Public Health England, ‘Table 6: Pertussis notifications and deaths, England and Wales: 1940–2014’ (5 May 2016). www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/521438/Table_6_Pertussis_notifications_and_deaths__E_W__1940_-_2015.pdf (accessed 5 August 2017).
In 1974, doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital published a paper claiming that there might be a link between the pertussis vaccine and brain damage. 21 The resultant media
differs in every nation. In Japan, apart from some widely publicised cases of
adverse vaccine-induced reactions, the topic of vaccination generated
relatively little public interest. However, the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 marked a
true turning point. This outbreak received extensive media coverage and
heightened general awareness of the dangers of infectious diseases.
A measles epidemic in 2007 resulting in nationwide school and