The response of the public towards the controversial Wakefield research highlights the prevailing cultural climate in the UK and its effect on health issues in contemporary society. People seem to be quite apprehensive especially on matters surrounding their health and well being and this is being reflected by an increased sense of individual susceptibility to any dangers posed to the health of individuals. There is a perceived increment in risk aversion and this is especially observed on matters pertaining to the health of children.
There are high levels of scepticism surrounding immunization since the publication of the Wakefield research as people do not want to put their children at any health risk (Fitzpatrick 2004). It logically follows that any adverse publication on matters of health such as on vaccination is typically followed by a reduction in the coverage of the vaccine and this has adverse effects on public health (“Correspondence” 1998, p. 905). The public relations campaign should therefore be carried out in such a manner that it will challenge and dispel any myths surrounding the MMR vaccine.
The content of the campaign has a lot to do with how the campaign will be received by the public and if it will achieve the desired purpose. One of the most important features of this campaign therefore, will be publicising the proof that the Wakefield claims linking the MMR vaccine to autism were unsubstantiated. Wakefield’s claims and the findings of his research were based only on anecdotal responses of some 12 patients who had been referred to him; certainly not a strong enough basis to establish a causal relation.
In a proper scientific research, there is need for the researcher to carefully select participants from the population and to have controls for the study but this is not evident in Wakefield’s research. On the other hand, several proper scientific researches have been carried out as a follow up these claims and they have all disproved the link between the MMR vaccine and autism, suggesting that the MMR vaccine is effective and safe for use (“Correspondence” 1998). So why is the public still apprehensive of the MMR vaccination even though Dr. Wakefield’s claims have been scientifically proven to be unfounded?
The answer lies in how the mass media has covered this incident. There was simply not enough media coverage on the findings that contradict the Wakefield research even as the controversial Wakefield research itself was given prominence by the popular press (“Correspondence” 1998, p. 906). The public seems to be heard only one side of the story therefore part of the campaign features will involve publicising the other side of the story which disproves the Wakefield claims.
For instance, a research published in the Lancet (Taylor et al 1999, p. 2026) that was carried out on children with autism to establish any causal relation between the MMR vaccine and autism found that there was no epidemiological association. If such studies are publicised, then they may help to change public opinion on the MMR vaccine. Another feature of the campaign will include publicising the dangers of a measles epidemic to the public. It is clear that despite warnings of a measles epidemic, parents are still not feeling motivated enough to immunize their children, therefore, they should be made to understand the consequences of their actions.
Some of the documented complications arising from a measles infection include serious infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis and meningitis. If very severe, measles can leave the person deaf, brain- damaged, paralyzed or dead (Fitzgerald 1991). People need to be made to understand that measles is a potentially fatal disease that can seriously decimate the country’s population for them to react. Thus the campaign will include an awareness creation of these effects, so as to illustrate the dangers that a measles epidemic holds not only for the individual but also for the society at large.