Concerned Parents Call Out Irresponsible Media
May 16, 2012

Modern culture is often reflected in everything from the skewed view of popular reality shows and viral YouTube videos, to the personal discussions friends have on Facebook and in online chat rooms.  Since we are bombarded by such a wide variety of media, today’s parents must constantly navigate the popular messages and decipher between that which serves to entertain, versus that which is intended as news and information.  The challenge is that this is becoming increasingly difficult to do – especially when it pertains to parenting and children’s health.
Recently, one of our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook friends discovered an online article entitled Why Shouldn’t We Vaccinate Our Children , which appeared in the Family Health section of Discovery’s “The Learning Channel” site.  The author is a senior writer at HowStuffWorks.com, co-host of the Stuff You Should Know podcast, and posts on Facebook at the official Stuff You Should Know page.  While one may read his article in hopes of learning how “stuff” (like vaccines and our immune systems) work, the article fails to deliver anything but broad generalizations and unsupported suggestions.   Rather than providing parents with a clear understanding of the science behind vaccines, the article is a disappointment that suggests parents be concerned about vaccines without offering any solid evidence.
If The Learning Channel were truly committed to helping people “learn”, and the author wanted to write about “stuff you should know“, then the article should have included information from those who do know stuff.  Specifically stuff about vaccines.  That’s not to say that the writer must be an infectious disease specialist in order to present accurate information on  immunizations.  But it would have been better if an expert was actually consulted on the article.  Without any specific references or resources to refer to, this author’s piece is completely unsubstantiated, yet disguised as something that some may consider credible.    Even though he suggests that people do “independent research on this issue,” he fails to direct readers to reputable sources where they can gain further information.
Fortunately, several members of the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page were quick to raise concern.  They recognized that this author’s piece was dangerously irresponsible and they wanted to do something about it.  By alerting such organizations as Every Child by Two, these civic-minded parents initiated a deliberate action that rallied a strong and unified community of vaccine supporters.  Numerous organizations have already agreed to sign onto a letter calling for more responsible reporting on immunization issues that impact public health and safety, and they intend to direct that letter specifically to the Discovery Channel site.  The concerns that were raised have even caught the attention of many other bloggers and science writers.  Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, has extensively researched vaccines and is extremely well-versed on the issues related to immunizations.  In his recent blog post entitled Taking Stupid to a Whole New Level, he quickly points out several issues that were misrepresented in this Discovery article.  And what do you know…Seth actually includes links supporting evidence.
Sadly, reckless articles like the one appearing on TLC are precisely what perpetuates parental concerns about vaccines.  If we are to ensure that today’s parents are well-educated on immunization issues, we must insist that media references to vaccines be grounded in science and not speculation.  There is a time and a place for a writer to express their opinions on vaccines.  It’s healthy to continue to evaluate current immunization policies and practices.  It ensures that we are doing the best we can to offer safe and effective disease prevention.  And while this type of dialogue is often encouraged here on Shot of Prevention, as well as on other immunization related blogs, it’s important that the mainstream media doesn’t disguise personal opinions as evidence based information.  Concerned parents, like those on the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, will continue to call out irresponsible media and we will do what we can to correct the misinformation out there in hopes of helping parents to make well-informed decisions about immunizations.


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