Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Friday, July 08, 2005

Jab campaigns use 'fear tactics' says expert

Jab campaigns use 'fear tactics' says expert
By Rebecca Walsh

An immunisation expert says public health officials have used fear tactics in the media to promote the meningococcal B vaccination.

Dr Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said both pro and anti-immunisation camps used fear to promote their viewpoints. She believed the tactic was valid provided it was honest and appropriate to the issue. The ministry's campaign for meningococcal B had focused narrowly on the disease and the urgency of the issue.

"I think it's realistic, working in health we are scared of certain diseases," she said. "I think fear is implicit in a lot of health. Part of health is the fear of not being healthy and the fear of catching a disease is what would motivate us to vaccinate."

In contrast, anti-immunisation groups tended to take a broad approach, looking at the risk of the vaccine, generalised to "conspiracies", anti-Government and anti-science messages.

Dr Turner, who will speak today at the Public Health Association conference on fear in the print media in the lead up to, and during the meningococcal B campaign, said some people had chosen not to vaccinate their children after reading articles in the media.

"There are people who have chosen not to vaccinate, which is fine but there are people who have chosen that based on misinformation or misunderstood fear."

Dr Turner and colleagues' provisional analysis of 2295 articles published in 2004 and the first half of 2005 found about 50 per cent were supportive of the campaign, 40 per cent were neutral and informational and 10 per cent were negative.

In some cases a well-balanced story was accompanied by a headline that was misleading or wrong.

Further analysis would extend to other forms of media and try to establish whether there was a relationship between what was represented in the media and immunisation coverage.

Dr Jane O'Hallahan, director of the Meningococcal Immunisation Programme, said the ministry did not intentionally use fear but some people might fear what they saw or heard about the disease. Fear was a natural reaction to a threat.

"Any parent, survivor or health professional who has dealt with meningococcal disease knows this is a fearsome disease."


The total number of notified cases for 2005 is 118 with seven deaths.

Not all of the cases are due to the same strain that the vaccine is designed to protect against.

The average number of cases per year for the past five years over the same time period is 207.

Before the start of the epidemic in 1991 around 60 cases were reported each year Source: Ministry of Health