Kayleigh Beaveridge at McGill Health E-News:
Fear of the development of syphilis and animalistic metamorphosis have been replaced with fears of the development of autism, immune disorders, allergies and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).14 The association, in particular, between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism is one of the most frequent concerns cited by parents when deciding whether or not to vaccinate their children.15 MMR, as a causative agent of autism, became popularized in the 1990s following the publication of Dr. Wakefield and colleagues’ article in the Lancet, which claimed to have evidence of an association between the MMR vaccine and “chronic enterocolitis and developmental regression”.16 Though the methodology of the study was questioned, its results disproven, and the paper retracted, the association remains at the forefront of the vaccination debate.17 The MMR vaccine-autism association is reminiscent of the smallpox vaccine-syphilis association of the 19th century by its consequences on the population despite a lack of supportive evidence. In both cases, the words of a physician coupled with repetition through visual media and by prominent figures have had a strong impact on the general population.
Caricatures published in booklets and handed out on street corners have been digitalized and bolstered by memes and pictures propagated by social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. A study on the presence of anti-vaccination content on YouTube in 2019 found that 32% of videos about vaccination were against the practice and that these videos had more views and higher ratings then content supporting vaccination.2 Quick searches on other social media platforms yielded caricatures which perpetuated beliefs that vaccines cause autism or SIDS (see Figures 3 and 4).2. Benecke O, DeYoung SE. Anti-Vaccine Decision-Making and Measles Resurgence in the United States. Global Pediatric Health. 2019 Jan;6:2333794X1986294.
14.Vaccine Choice Canada. Health Risks [Internet]. Available from: https://vaccinechoicecanada.com/health-risks/
15.Dubé E, Laberge C, Guay M, Bramadat P, Roy R, Bettinger JA. Vaccine hesitancy: An overview. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics. 2013 Aug 8;9(8):1763–73.
16.Wakefield A, Murch S, Anthony A, Linnell J, Casson D, Malik M, et al. RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet. 1998 Feb;351(9103):637–41.17. Bean SJ. Emerging and continuing trends in vaccine opposition website content. Vaccine. 2011 Feb 24;29(10):1874–80.