Darrell Gale joined Wokingham Borough Council earlier this year as the new public health consultant. Yesterday he was quoted in the local press urging parents, as their children go back to school, to ensure they are immunised against potentially serious illnesses, mentioning MMR in particular.
It was sensible advice, and I emailed Darrell to thank him and his colleagues for their efforts (local MMR rates have been climbing steadily – see below), and also to express my satisfaction at the tone of the report.
Too often we see the scientific advice on MMR, and on vaccination generally, obscured in the media by misinformation and journalistic false balance. I am grateful that our local paper appears to report on these matters responsibly.
Darrell’s gracious reply included this gem:
As an evidence-based speciality, we in public health often get landed the sticky issues to deal with – such as immunisation and a whole raft of other health issues which our blessed media like to dissect before taking advice or evidence from the most misguided spokespeople they can. I’m pleased that our local paper has taken our advice and printed it without spin, and I hope they continue to do so. With that, we may still improve the health of those in our borough who most need it.
Darrell is absolutely right. It is not enough for journalists to show skepticism towards the powerful, to scrutinise what our politicians and officials are telling us, as vital as that is. They must also demonstrate the same skepticism to the opposite camp. For sometimes the powerless need help to raise their voice against the powerful; sometimes they can be dismissed as deluded deniers of evidence.
Vaccination rates amongst local children have risen massively in recent years, but there is still some way to go to achieve satisfactory levels for effective community immunity.
(Source: Wokingham Borough Council, Health & Wellbeing Board, Immunisation Update 15/8/13. PDF)