Vaccines: Victims of Poor Marketing

February 5, 2010 in Health Policy by RangelMD

Even the most hard-core vaccine antagonist will admit, though with trepidation, that vaccines have been one of the – if not the biggest – success stories of modern medicine and have literally saved hundreds of millions of lives since their introduction. And yet vaccines continue to get more bad press than good. A few examples:

Thanks to the now discredited Dr. Wakefeld, the childhood measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) will be chronically linked to autism despite a complete lack of scientific evidence for any causation.

The 1999 FDA/CDC decision to “exercise the precautionary principle” and recommend that pharmaceutical companies remove the methyl-mercury containing preservative thimerosal from their vaccines caused a storm of parental hysteria among people who couldn’t grasp the concept that the  “precautionary principle” could be just vaguely theoretical and not based on any suspected or definitive poof of potential harm.

Almost 1/3 of adults ages 65 and older had not been immunized against pneumonia as of 2008 and only 36.1% of all adults had been vaccinated against seasonal influenza (not the H1N1)  despite the fact that these two infections directly kill up to 40-50 THOUSAND Americans each year.

Obviously the problem is multi-factorial. Many cling to hope that a vaccine cause for autism or other developmental disease implies that a cure is possible. Quacks, politicians, the media, and lawyers continue to reinforce the vaccine mythology for personal, political, and monetary gain. And then there is simple outright ignorance and the problem of misleading vividness in paying attention to all the publicity and unsubstantiated claims of vaccine harm while ignoring decades of proven scientific evidence of vaccine benefit.

To paraphrase Dr. Seus, “who will speak for the vaccines?”  The scientists will! But this is problematic for a society that puts more value in individualism and self-reliance than in institutions. Science and scientists are seen part of  the establishment and are not to be trusted or at least watched with a skeptical eye. Who will Americans trust? Americans trust advertising and entertainers because we can more easily empathize with ads for beer, feminine hygiene products, and Oprah than we can with a PhD expert on polymerase chain reactions. How else to explain the popularity of self-promoted autism activist and expert Jenny McCarthy? What vaccines need is to take lessons from advertising and pop culture. A few suggestions:

  • All natural! (vaccines are just tiny pieces of viruses and bacteria and these are completely natural).
  • Now thimersoal free!
  • Hundreds of thousands of times safer than driving or sitting in your home!*
  • Prove Jenny McCarthy wrong!
  • Better Rainman than dead!
  • Be prepared for the next epidemic!
  • Comes with a free band-aid and lifetime CDC membership!
  • Comes with a one day work/school excuse!
  • Smart and beautiful people always get their vaccinations!
  • Now with 10% real fruit juice!
  • Grumpy Gus didn’t get his vaccinations and died from polio. Don’t be a Grumpy Gus!
  • Fat, drunk, and un-vaccinated is no way to go through life!
  • Yes we can!
  • Yes you will because I’m not paying half a million in taxes  for your 2 month stay in the ICU with pneumonia because you were too much of a stubborn jackass to get your flu shot!

*Odds of a reaction from vaccination is one in several hundred thousand compared to the odds of dying in an auto accident, 1 in 100, or from fire, 1 in 1,100.

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