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December 18, 1996

Vaccines and Risks: The Responsibility of the Media, Scientists, and Clinicians

Author Affiliations

From the Harvard School of Public Health, Center for Health Communication, Boston, Mass.

JAMA. 1996;276(23):1917-1918. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540230067038

"IN LIGHT of the available scientific evidence on vaccines, the question for the media is how to report rare adverse events without distorting the public's perceptions of the true risk."1 So ask Freed and colleagues writing in this issue of THE JOURNAL about the overreporting or misguided reporting of actual or feared reactions to vaccines, reporting that may discourage essential immunizations of children.

The authors call on the media to report responsibly. The question, of course, is "how to report responsibly," and it is not a question for the media alone. It is also one for those who develop, manufacture, promote, and regulate vaccines, including the clinicians who give the doses or the injections.

Do the media sometimes report irresponsibly on vaccines, without perspective? Yes.

Do the media sometimes point out the merits of vaccination, the rarity of adverse events, and the unreliability of scattered cases and anecdotes? The