New US research criticises websites opposing childhood vaccinations for appealing to parents' emotions when trying to convey their message, and including claims about vaccination that are not supported by studies from peer-reviewed medical journals.
The investigators, from Northwestern University in Chicago, found that, of the 22 websites they evaluated, most claimed that vaccines weaken a child's immune system. In addition, 95 per cent voiced the opinion that vaccine side-effects are underreported, and 64 per cent offered information on how to legally avoid immunising a child, such as by seeking a philosophical exemption.
The study's conclusions are, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, hypocritical, given that the government's claims for the benefits of vaccination are themselves poorly supported by good science and that government-sponsored ads - often bleak black-and-white affairs trumpeting that 'children have died, childhood diseases haven't' - are usually powerful exercises in emotional blackmail.
The authors also criticise the fact that antivaccination websites use 'emotionally charged stories' from parents. They note, for instance, that 55 per cent of the websites included accounts from parents who suspected that their child was hurt or killed as a result of vaccination, and another 25 per cent contained photos of the injured children.
Nevertheless, antivaccine lobbyists counter, given medical science's seeming lack of interest in the safety of vaccines, it is only through such anecdotal evidence that parents can begin to build a picture of just how dangerous childhood vaccines can be.
Criticised, too, was the suggestion that vaccinations can spark a wide variety of illnesses, including allergies or asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), autism and Crohn's disease.
The authors say these connections have yet to be scientifically proven. But, yet again, they fail to mention that no serious studies have ever been carried out to assess the possible adverse effects of childhood vaccination.
Initially worrying, the only solid conclusion to be drawn from this report is that it is the latest in the multipronged attack on those individuals who have the courage to criticise the blind faith that government bodies continue to put into vaccination (JAMA, 2002; 287: 3245-8).