In TV Newsland, the words “Vaccine Warning” are ordinarily followed by images of disabled children, grieving parents, and “alternative” health providers spouting junk science. But WTMJ, Milwaukee’s NBC affiliate, went against stereotype last night with a report that unvaccinated kids are at risk for preventable diseases.
Not exactly dog-bites-man news, but by TV Newsland standards, an epiphany. There was no doubt that WTMJ is pro-public health when reporter Shelley Walcott interviewed a smug Christian Scientist father who defended not vaccinating his two daughters:
“And when we had kids I decided, what is the most effective, direct way I can provide health care for them. And that was relying on Christian Science.”
“There will be a number of people watching this at home who will say you are being unfair to your kids. How do you respond to that?”
“By demonstration. I have two healthy kids who have never taken shots.”
The report briefly sputtered when it cited “intense debate” about vaccines’ role in autism, and there was the obligatory Jenny McCarthy reference. Fortunately, Dr. Richard Olds, Chief of Medicine for the Medical College of Wisconsin, steered the story back on track by reminding us that evidence still counts for something, even in TV Newsland.
“You have to ask yourself if there is scientific evidence that suggests there is a valid reason not to receive a vaccination.” About a recent outbreak of whooping cough he said “It’s because too many people have chosen for whatever reason not to get the vaccine. And now that’s becoming a public health problem.”
Walcott’s report left some important questions unanswered: What is the news media’s role in spreading misinformation and fear about vaccines? If Jenny McCarthy can convince some parents that vaccines damaged her kid, can Shelly Walcott convince others that scientific evidence still means something?