One of my favorite aspects of being an SPH student is my expanded knowledge of interesting goings on at the University. It can be hard to decide which ones to make time for, but when I got the email about the screening of this NOVA episode, I knew I had to go. I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of parents forgoing child vaccinations in the developed world ever since I watched the Frontline documentary called The Vaccine War.
The screening of the NOVA episode “Vaccines: Calling the Shots” took place on Sept 26th. Professor Zikmund-Fisher who is in the Health Behavior and Health Education department , Dr. Andrew Maynard from the Risk Science Center, and Assistant Professor Sonya Dal Cin of Communication Studies in the College of Literature, Arts and Sciences were there to lead discussion at the end of the episode screening. Professor Zikmund-Fisher is actually featured in the episode and collaborated with the director of the episode, Sonya Pemberton.
This episode attempts to take a middle of the road approach. By that I mean, “The Vaccine War” shows two extreme camps in the vaccine discussion- those who adamantly support vaccines and an exact immunization schedule, and those who do not believe in vaccinations at all- while Vaccines Calling the Shots presents parents who are confused on the topic, and more nuanced look at the topic. It is also highly informational- it discusses the science of how vaccines work, the history of vaccines themselves, as well as the creation of the Polio vaccine. There are a lot of firsthand accounts by parents whose children have been negatively effected by diseases that were once thought to be eliminated by vaccinations, and a firsthand account of doctors caring for those patients. Interestingly, there was also an account of two different parents and one (grown) child who discussed negative impact of vaccines on their lives. This is what made the episode fairly neutral- its portrayal of the good and the bad. After the episode the instructors led a very engaging discussion of our thoughts surrounding the episode. We discussed the humanization of the doctors’ first hand accounts through their expressions of frustration and sadness at the sickness of young un-vaccinated children with highly preventable diseases. We discussed the portrayal of parents as well. The thing that has stuck with me from our discussion is that, on a spectrum, most parents views on vaccination fall in the middle category on the spectrum of- “I will vaccinate my child and I know exactly why I will vaccinate them” to “I will not vaccinate my child because I feel I understand them and I am not willing to do that” . These parents in the middle tend to be those who are most influenced by others and need to be reached by this NOVA episode. In our conversation with them we have to acknowledge that they have concerns, that being a parent can mean making scary decisions, but if they are given good information and fully educated, they will make the healthy decision for their child. I think this episode accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. You can watch the full episode here.