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December 18, 1996

Safety of Vaccinations: Miss America, the Media, and Public Health

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Community Pediatrics (Dr Freed), Department of Health Policy and Administration (Dr Freed), and Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research (Dr Freed and Ms Clark), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC (Dr Katz).

JAMA. 1996;276(23):1869-1872. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540230019013

ON SEPTEMBER 17,1994, Heather Whitestone was chosen as Miss America, the first ever with a disability. Her deafness has been the subject of much media attention. On September 16, 1994, the Atlanta Constitution ran a story in its front section about Whitestone stating, "At age 18 months, [she] almost died from an adverse reaction to a routine DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) vaccination. It wiped out all but a tiny sliver of her hearing."1 On September 18, the New York Times ran an Associated Press story in its first section stating "Miss Whitestone... lost her hearing at 18 months because of a reaction to a diphtheria-tetanus shot."2 On September 19 the New York Times ran another story ascribing her deafness to a vaccination.3 Not until September 26 did the New York Times publish a story stating that Whitestone's deafness was not due to a vaccination but actually resulted