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A decade ago, the possibility of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism hit the media. Fear of the vaccine spread rapidly and, despite an almost unanimous consensus that the claim was unfounded, still persists today.


In this course, The MMR vaccine: Public health, private fears, we’ll examine why this controversy took on such a life of its own and why parents still agonize about the vaccine.

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • Understand more of the scientific factors that relate to the dispute about the safety of the MMR vaccine in the UK
  • Assess the strength of arguments for and against the use of the MMR vaccine
  • Show how issues of risk, trust, communication and media representation of science and medicine have a strong bearing on public perception of the MMR vaccine
  • Explain why there is such a strong consensus amongst the medical profession testifying to the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Course Curriculum

Section 1
The MMR controversy 01:00:00
Section 2
Background to the controversy 00:40:00
Section 3
Risk perception 00:50:00
Section 4
Single vaccines – the middle way? 00:20:00
Section 5: MMR and the media
Overview 00:20:00
Blair’s babe 00:20:00
The expert patient 00:20:00
Telling tales 00:30:00
Section 6
Everyone’s interests 00:50:00
Section 7
Concluding remarks 00:20:00
Section 8: Reading 1: The Lancet Paper
Reading 1: The Lancet Paper 00:10:00
An acrimonious debate 00:30:00
MMR and the Medical Research Council 00:40:00
Testing the MMR-autism hypothesis 00:40:00
MMR safety 01:30:00
Moving the goalposts 01:30:00
Section 9: Reading 2: Communication and miscommunication of risk: understanding UK parents' attitudes to combined MMR vaccination
Communication and miscommunication of risk 00:20:00
Parents’ responses to the risks 00:20:00
Lessons from history 00:20:00
What went wrong with MMR? 00:20:00
Changing parents’ perceptions 00:20:00
Section 10: Reading 3: Towards a better map: Science, the public and the media
Media coverage of the MMR controversy 00:30:00
Media coverage of cloning and genetic medical research 00:30:00
The media and the public understanding of science 01:00:00
Overall levels of scientific understanding 00:30:00
What did we learn from media coverage between April and October? 01:00:00
The media and public understanding of the MMR controversy 01:00:00
The media and public understanding of cloning and genetic medical research 01:00:00
Conclusion 01:00:00
Section 11:Reading 4: The lessons of MMR
The lessons of MMR 00:30:00
Research integrity 00:20:00
Public engagement 00:15:00
Publishing controversial new ideas 00:15:00

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