2 September 2014

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Measles outbreak blamed on paper’s 1990s campaign

A campaign started by a regional daily more than 15 years ago has been partly blamed for the current measles outbreak.

The South Wales Evening Post started a campaign in 1997 raising concerns about the MMR vaccine and this has been linked to the current outbreak of the disease in Swansea, where nearly 600 cases have been reported.

It was reported on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that health officials claimed the paper’s campaign, which called for more facts for parents about the jab, had resulted a drop in MMR vaccinations in the area.

There were widespread concerns about the MMR jab nationwide after Dr Andrew Wakefield published a since-discredited study in The Lancet suggesting the jab was linked with an increased risk of autism.

BBC journalist Hywell Griffiths told the Today programme: “Health service officials claims one of the main reasons why the outbreak has centred around Swansea is that the local Evening Post paper ran a campaign raising concerns over MMR in the late 1990s.”

A report from 2000 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health linked the paper’s campaign to a drop in uptake of the vaccine in the title’s circulation area, saying it was “significantly lower” compared with the rest of Wales.

Evening Post editor Jonathan Roberts did not appear on the Today programme but said the paper’s campaign had “pre-dated their entire newsroom” and it was not possible for them to comment on its impact.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at Bristol University told the programme: “People’s decisions are based on what they hear about, and the media play a role in that.

“While I don’t think we should entirely blame this problem on the media, they have obviously played their part over the last decade or so in this debacle.

“The fact is that all over the country, we have stored up large numbers of children who have not been immunised and not yet had measles and we are in a very vulnerable situation, not only in Swansea but other places as well.”

The programme can be heard here.

4 Comments

  1. Dunkin Donuttin

    Fair enough, I suppose, for Jonathan to swerve this one, but where is the proper journalism seeking out the man who WAS Editor at the time?
    Or, indeed, the two high profile Editors still working in the industry, who were both key executives in the Swansea newsroom at the time of the campaign?

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  2. substandard

    Who was the editor at the time?

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  3. Ex-Insider

    Dunkin Donuttin is spot on. Newspapers are notoriously poor at cleaning up their own mess. Some responsible journalism is called for now more than ever.

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  4. Boring Old Sub

    There’s a lesson there for all newspapers, not to get involved in campaigns where there is no way they can know the truth of the matter. With the Government and most doctors so firmly on the side of the MMR jab, it seems madness to take the other side when to get it wrong could have catastrophic consequences.

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