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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking responsibility in the media

I spent a fascinating three hours last night in the company of GPs and Immunologists as well as one journalist discussing the issue of vaccination.

The case for vaccination is of course overwhelming and the clinicians there were very generous in praising the Assembly Government for its far-sightedness in investing in the HPV vaccine and administering it to girls in their schools. As one contributor said, the benefits of this investment may not be seen for 30 years and could lead to a halving of deaths from cervical cancer. It is the sort of long-term investment that politicians are wrongly considered to shy away from and proved in his view that the vast majority of us enter public life with the intention of improving the lives of others.

The most controversial topic of the evening however was the role and responsibilities of the media in the MMR controversy. A view was expressed that it is the role of newspapers and other media to act responsibly and not to stir up fears that can lead to people refusing important vaccinations.

On the other hand it was pointed out that the Andrew Wakefield study that sparked the MMR controversy was published in the Lancet and was not seriously challenged with any vigour by the medical profession for some time. The role of journalists and their editors is to sell newspapers and to attract listeners and viewers not to act as a propaganda vehicle of the state.

It was said that people need to take responsibility for their own health and that of their children and get all the facts themselves, not rely on the media. But it was also pointed out that people need to be able to have confidence in the advice they receive and things are no longer black and white in medicine (or politics for that matter). Even doctors sometimes have doubts and their patients sense that and respond accordingly. We have lived through an anti-science age and we may still be in it.

That may be an unfair and distorted view of the evening but it sums up some of the questions and issues that remained in my mind as I left. Much more was said and far more eloquently than I could convey here. Some important and thought-provoking philosophical matters were brought up that could keep us all talking for hours. Feel free to chip in.
This is also an argument for local health boards and community health councils co-terminous (sorry about the jargon) with local authority areas. Professionals and local representatives acting together can reinforce each other.

We appear to have lost the first but there is just a chance we could save the second if the Health Minister listens to representations.
We have lived through an anti-science age and we may still be in it.
- Yes we are!

I understand that the Assembly Government went for the vaccine that offered protection against types 16 & 18 HPV virus, there is another vaccine on the market that protects against these two viruses in addition to 6 & 11 HPV virus.
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