Fighting Fear Mongering, Vaccines

Fear mongering: Def: the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle. Syn: scaremongering, scare tactics

We all know what fear mongering is, it is widely used by political parties and religious groups to support their positions on issues. And unfortunately, especially for our industry, it is an effective tool used by detractors to oppose scientific advancement, delaying the introduction of new technology into the market place, and increasing the cost of innovation. The most egregious examples are not backed just by misinformation, but also bad science. And in some instances, fueled by misguided celebrity endorsement and coverage in our news media.

I will be doing a series on fear mongering, future posts will cover the safety of GMO foods, the GM impact on Honey Bee populations, and stem cell research and therapies.

Ever since there have been vaccines, there has been an anti-vaccination movement. The myth that mercury in the thimerosal preservative commonly used in vaccines is the cause of autism is the bogeyman used to try to argue that vaccines do more harm than good. It was the scare campaign engineered in response to Andrew Wakefield’s poor science claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

An Example of Fear Mongering

The myth was perpetuated by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy. Despite two dozen studies showing no link between vaccines and autism, the anti vaccine and thimerosal sentiment continued in the media. Even after Andrew Wakefield’s study was discredited and labeled “an elaborate fraud” and the American Medical Association voiced their opposition to removing thimerosal from vaccines(Click here to read the AMA info sheet on why banning thimerosal is dangerous). Public opinion was swayed and many states banned the use of thimerosal in vaccines, including Illinois. All of this was done without any scientific merit.

As a society, we need to used science based decisions to determine patient safety and patient access to life saving therapies and medicines.

I know what you are thinking, this all happened years ago.

But on January 19 the United Nations Environment Program hosted a conference of 140 nations to form a global treaty to reduce toxic mercury in the environment. Leading up to this conference advocates were lobbying hard to have thimerosal included in the ban. Fortunately the use of thimerosal vaccines was added on the exempt list because of support by specialists who advise the World Health Organization, and groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But the fact that there is still a movement should not be forgotten, especially as new and innovative vaccines are brought to market and vaccine development is implemented.

Listen to the NPR coverage from December 2012 about this story.

As I said fear mongering is an extremely effective tool, it has impacted public opinions and changed legislation. By nature, we fear what we don’t know, and activists feed on this fear by fueling it. The only way we can fight this tool, is to talk about it. Shine the light on the bogey man and he disappears. Now I am not saying that we should hide in the dark with flashlights, I am saying that we need to do a better job talking about our industry and the promise it brings.

Don’t miss these great break out sessions on Vaccines at BIO 2013:

This is a conversation, not an editorial. Did I forget something, get it wrong or do you agree? Please Comment, Like, Re-Tweet and Share.

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