Tuesday, 23 April 2013

MMR: when the governed don't trust the governors any more

So I went and had my triple Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccination yesterday, since I've never been innoculated before (don't ask) and the menacing measles outbreak in South Wales is uncomfortably near my own home.

Anyway. I feel fine today, though I felt a bit groggy yesterday. Thanks for asking.

But why has take-up of the vaccine fallen so far? So far below the safe threshold at which most of the population is covered? That's the real qwuestion behind the lurid headlines, and an answer demands more than attacks on the Daily Mail for its (admittedly disgraceful) coverage of the issue.

Yes, the Mail led the scaremongering - about doctors who wouldn't vaccinate their old children, or Japanese variants of the vaccine that aren't even used any more. But remember: the initial research that linked the jab to autism in young children was published in The Lancet, so an initial set of stories was more than justified. The tone? Hysterical. And deeply, deeply shameful - if our newspapers had much shame left. The dear old Mail has even started insinuating that any deaths from measles will be due to doctors' negligence - rather than their own failure to check (and re-check) what they write. It's no wonder that United Kingdom Independence Party voters - older, wealthier, southern types who often read the Mail - are more sceptical about MMR than other groups in the population.

Stiil. Papers like the Mail wouldn't be able these seeds of fear and confusion if there wasn't fertile ground for it. And the field ready for the plough? A public that doesn't trust anybody in authority: certainly not the Government, announcing today that the budget deficit is falling by the splendid ruse of slashing long-term capital expenditure, moving yearly spending around and then threatening government departments with the rack if they spend a penny in March, the last month of the financial year. A trick that worked by - oh, yes - just the tiniest sliver of a drop that they needed for Ministers' headlines. Don't think this is a partisan point, either, for Gordon Brown as Labour Chancellor and Prime Minister was a master of re-announcing spending and announcing tax cuts that turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Is it any wonder that the public are disillusioned. It's no wonder that faith in most figures of authority is at an all-time low (since modern polling began, anyway). The Daily Mail's philosophy rests on telling everyone, over and over again, that you can't trust anyone else - that you should stand on your own two (British) feet. But our politicians, and sometimes our doctors - including those sitting on the commissioning bodies that are then going to buy their own services - have helped them do their nasty and ubiquitous work.

The real reason why parents shied away from MMR? Simple: no-one trusts a word our leaders say any more. Which is a pity, because we're actually pretty well and transparently governed. But years of spin and counter-spin, amplified and encouraged by a poisonous press, mean that Britons can't be told any more. They have to be persuaded. And if the persuader is a virus that just might kill you? Welcome to tomorrow.