From our point of view, the years-long debate on whether vaccinations cause autism should be coming to an end. Just last week, Ron Winslow of the Wall Street Journal may have put the proverbial nail in the coffin with his article that the evidence has been largely discredited and medical journals like The Lancet and The British Medical Journal have published articles showing the connection as fraudulent. This wasn’t real news since retractions had been made. Several of the original researchers have withdrawn their original results supporting the connection. It’s important to note that the lead researcher, Andrew Wakefield is unrepentant and still defends the findings.
In the decade since the original research was published, hundreds of British parents and thousands worldwide declined to have their children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. Subsequently, measles outbreaks have been reported in many Western countries. As it stands today, 1 in 4 parents surveyed still believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism.
Vaccine advocates and organizations like the Immunization Action Coalition have been fighting the public perception battle. Likely, recent articles will serve to boost the assertion of no link between vaccines and autism. Heartstring-tugging stories like one on NPR show the consequences of believing the mythology. With the retractions and mounting evidence against Dr. Wakefield’s findings, will a reversal of the public’s negative perception on vaccines just take care of itself?
We don’t think so, and most PR pros would probably agree that the battle is not yet over.
The conventional wisdom is that now is the time for a new ongoing public awareness campaign. But, what should it consist of, and how far do they take it? Is there a professional (physician) outreach called for? Should advocates pursue legal action against Dr. Wakefield or would that result in reputational backlash? Does the scientific retraction give the coalition and its supporters leverage to mount other aggressive challenges against anti-immunization influencers? Would that seem punitive and distracting to the core mission, or an opportunity that must not be passed up?
What would you do? What are your thoughts? What if the pro-immunization and vaccination organizations were asking your advice?