Op-Ed: Fake H1N1 Pandemic Claims Assailed – Anti-Vaccine Communications Challenges Remain

Credibility and transparency are essential to building trust in public health communications. During unfolding public health crises, the problem of what and when to warn is an enduring policy dilemma that goes to the heart of public trust.

Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) persuasively refuted spurious claims from the Council of Europe that H1N1 was a “fake pandemic” engineered for pharmaceutical companies profit by calmly presenting the timeline of pandemic events. H1N1 turned out to be a pandemic of moderate pathogenicity. However, at the outset clinical indicators revealed a spreading global hazard in the form of a rare but progressively fatal viral pneumonia that was straining intensive care units.

A more complex communications challenge comes from the influential grassroots antivaccine movement, which claims a link between vaccines and asthma, allergies or autism. Concerned parents in small but growing numbers are opting not to vaccinate their children. These decisions weaken “herd immunity” and have led to the reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases, e.g. measles outbreak in NYC. In some parts of the US, vaccination rates reportedly have dropped so low that occurrences of some children’s diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels.

Two-way dialogue is needed on issues of vaccine safety and vaccine additives. A one-sided public communications campaign probably will not make full headway. Public distrust of pharmaceutical companies will not make the task any easier.

An example anti-vaccine movement video, these kinds of presentations are crowding out other H1N1 multimedia in Internet queries.

Don't get the flu.  Don't spread the flu.  Get Vaccinated. www.cdc.gov/flu

ABC News: H1N1 Experts Assail ‘Fake’ Pandemic Claim
Discover: Vaccine Phobia Becomes a Public Health Threat
Harris: Large Numbers of People Do Not Trust the Institutions They Identify as Most Responsible for Drug Safety
Harvard: Nieman Foundation Guide to Covering Pandemic Flu – Outbreak Communication: How the Sources See the Story
NEJM: Vaccine Refusal, Mandatory Immunization, and the Risks of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases
UPI: WHO: H1N1 is a not a ‘fake’ pandemic
USA Today: Missed vaccines weaken ‘herd immunity’ in children
WHO: Statement by Dr Keiji Fukuda on behalf of WHO at the Council of Europe hearing on pandemic (H1N1) 2009
WHO: Statement of the World Health Organization on allegations of conflict of interest and ‘fake’ pandemic
WIRED: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Adagio Teas

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