The Vaccine Wars: PR Winners and Losers

anti vaccine public relations

The vaccination and anti-vaccination movements have waged battle against each other for decades. In February 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a medical paper describing a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Few people realize the anti-vaccination movement existed long before that paper. Science matters little to the general public because perception takes precedent.

These days, both movements fight a public relations battle, and the landscape constantly changes. Regardless, this is a true PR Crisis for the medical community; with a strong communications plan needed to combat vaccine deniers.


In our current reality, we don’t face the historic rise and fall of certain diseases that seemed to flood through the population every so many years. The last big outbreak of polio in the U.S. was in 1952 and was devastating, not just taking making lives, but leaving many others with lifelong crippling impact. Even those who seemed to be cured saw some of the effects coming back to haunt them later in life. But 1952 sufferers are almost all a part of history. We are no longer faced with that living example in the public, such as we once were with someone like President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine, the scientific and medical community saw great possibilities, the general population required a bit more convincing. They were a generation who experienced polio outbreaks about every 20 years or so – at least in more rural settings. Salk’s vaccine was a “live virus” vaccine, and you can bet there were a lot of people who were deeply frightened that using the vaccine could create an outbreak wiping out the population.


Similarly, smallpox is often said to be gone, so why continue a vaccination which could have some negative impact on a small percentage of the population. Nevertheless, every couple of years or so, there seems to be a small outbreak of it somewhere in the world. And with some of these, the strains have become stronger and harder to treat with current medications. There are risks from either side of the coin, many of the vaccinations are “live virus” versions, introducing a small amount of the disease into the human body so it can create antibodies to fight the problem if a more virulent version of the disease hit the population.

Mandated vaccinations vs. voluntary use

In most cases, no one has a problem with the use of vaccines traditionally given after childhood, such as flu shots generally recommended for those with weak immune systems and older members of the population. It’s the enforced vaccines, required for such things as admittance into public school. The federal government doesn’t have any mandates on these, mainly because the federal government tends to look at health issues as being part of the state’s rights to govern themselves. However, with healthcare becoming more and more an enforced issue by the federal government, it is possible that vaccines could become a mandated issue required for public safety. Not many are focusing on that possibility, but it is there all the same.

Looking at this situation requires an acknowledgment of the “American Spirit.” Looking at any story about the history of America and you are going to hit a few common words – independent, trailblazers, not easily herded into ideas, concepts, or anything taking away a perceived freedom. Sound familiar? In this, we, the people, have always had a certain distrust of government, choosing instead options of self-government.

It’s the same fight faced by those wanting to control any aspect of what we consider our rights. Mandated vaccination, gun control, freedom of speech – all battle the same part of the American consciousness that is ready to fight anyone telling us what we MUST do. When the experts disagree on the impact and effect, even if it is only a small portion of the experts on one side of that fence, we can’t help but remember some of the sins of the government in past years.

Healthcare PR

Whichever side of the battle you or your client embraces, public relations (and possibly public affairs) needs to factor in that spirit. If you’re working on campaigns against mandated use of a vaccine, then recognize you may already be on the winning side currently. But be prepared for the possibility of a crisis and make plans for that. Making allusions to past attempts by the government to sometimes use health issues against members of the public may be one approach, but look for more positive ones to enforce the good in your message.

If you represent organizations pushing toward mandating a vaccine as a requirement for something like admittance to a public school, which is often the situation, know your disease. When was the last outbreak and where, how strong was that version of the virus and what would happen if it hit a community without the children with a “built-in” defense system. What is the possible death toll in that situation? Fear is a good motivator, but temper it with the broader picture of keeping the entire community safe, not just one child.

Here’s a look at the current PR winners and losers:

Anti-Vaxxers: Winners

The number of people against vaccinations has grown in recent years. Despite increased media coverage, anti-vaxxers continue to gain momentum. Wakefield’s paper was recanted years ago, but anti-vaxxers are against vaccines for other reasons. This includes concerns about safety and the role of personal freedoms. Either way, these individuals are gaining favor in the public eye thanks to various factors.

Pro-Vaxxers: Losers

Pro-vaxxers have the benefit of scientific evidence on their side. Likewise, they hold the noble notion of wanting to protect the general public. These same individuals are sometimes vilified for pushing mandated vaccinations, though. Most people believe that vaccinations are safe, but they’re less in favor of legally mandated vaccines. These days, pro-vaxxers have to fight a battle that makes them seem pushy and self-righteous, so they’re PR losers overall.

The Media: Winners

Although biases in the media exist, the collective media wins. Increased coverage of the vaccine wars can only improve ratings. Plus, certain outlets have taken a firm stance on this issue, winning the hearts of that particular side. Media outlets reap the rewards of covering this battle without facing too much scrutiny. The general public uses the media to form their opinions on matters after all.

Scientists and Health Officials: Losers

The scientific community has claimed that vaccines are safe since their inception. Similarly, health officials have touted vaccines and pushed for their use. Both of these groups are public relations losers today. They advocate for vaccines and use science to back up their claims. However, public opinion rallies against these officials because the general public seems to mistrust scientists and the government.

The Vaccine Wars Are Far From Over!

Public opinion on the vaccine wars continues to change every so often. Anti-vaxxers continue to make gains in the public eye, yet that could change tomorrow.  All it would take is an outbreak of one of these diseases, thought to be eradicated previously, such as smallpox, and the tide of public opinion could turn in a very ugly heartbeat.

In the end, it seems as though the media is the only guaranteed winner at all times. Health officials, researchers, and pro-vaxxers seem to be fighting a losing battle. This can be attributed to Americans’ desire to decide upon vaccinations, including mandatory vaccinations, themselves. The war is far from over, though.


  1. William Floyd says

    It’s all fun and games until someone comes down with an ailment that could of been prevented. I contracted diphtheria (whooping cough) in my mid 50’s doing volunteer work at a school where there was obviously a non-vaccinated vector running around merrily spreading the wealth.

    I spent 2 plus months with this illness. Only after having to take massive amounts of antibiotics did I recover, but my system was out of whack for a year after, impacting my work and my health.

    The number of lives saved with vaccines way outweighs the arguments against. Yes, more testing is a good thing. There is 2 generations that have grown up under the umbrella of the vaccination programs of the 50’s and 60’s.

    If you have never seen a person in an Iron Lung consider yourself lucky.

  2. Rima E. Laibow, MD says

    I am a medical doctor. I am also an adamant opponent of mandatory vaccination for four powerful reasons: First, Freedom. Unless we are owned by corporations and the State which they increasingly control, there are no justifications worthy of the name for forcing anything, let alone toxic materials with uninsuralbe risks associated into my body or my child’s.
    Second: Safety. The dismal record of vaccine safety is available to everyone to see if they choose to look. And it makes sense that they would be dangerous: injecting foreign protein, mercury, aluminum, neurotoxins and auto immune initiators plus stealth viruses like the SV40 Leukemia virus which CDC now admits contaminated the polio vaccine courses of 98 million Americans, and the polio virus which is the primary cause, through vaccination, of polio (as announced on the CDC website) and much, much more makes it clear that vaccines are toxic and dangerous.
    Third: Efficacy. Vaccine practice is based on two things: outmoded immunology, now thoroughly disproven, but perpetuated by inertia and the second perpetuation force; money. Although US law requires every vaccine deployed to be proven both safe and effective, the number of vaccines so proven = 0. Not one.
    But cost effectiveness and disease prevention are both woefully lacking. If you doubt this, look at the satistics for mortality rates before the introduction of every infectious disease and the precipitous decline BEFORE the introduction of any vaccines. You will see that virtually all of that decline occurs before any vaccine is introduced because clean water, adequate nutrition, hygiene and sanitation were introduced. Interestingly, the rate of decline of those diseases for which there is no vaccine shows the same decline. But where vaccines were introduced, the precipitous rate of decline becomes less steep. Vaccines cause disease. They also cause death, as the recent Council on Foreign Relations report on national health shows: the greater the number of vaccine doses, the sicker the populace. The US is both the most vaccinated and the sickest country on the planet. Our infant mortality is 34th while our infant vaccine tally is the highest. Safety? I think not.
    And that is the second part of money: like it or not, Big medicine and Big Pharma (the same thing, after all) make money only when patients are ill. So while the direct market of vaccine injection is lucrative, the after market of chronically ill children and adults with cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease, endocrine disease and on and on and on.
    And the last reason is cost effectiveness: vaccines are terrible, expensive and ineffective social policy. Billions and billions of dollars are wasted on vaccine research, production, stock piling, purchasing and deploying these dangerous and ineffective toxic jabs. The money acts as an incentive for the uninsurable, liability-free vaccine makers to make more and more and more vaccines and if they are dangerous, then they get to sell the medicines for the diseases caused, the more chronic the better.
    I have written a paper on this topic which you can find here: along with the power point presentation.
    I think the ulimtate loser, whom you did not reference here, is the population. They are being jabbed in record numbers and now the push is on for mandated jabs for adults.
    Why? $$ and Population Control, both in terms of controlling the health of the population and controlling its reproductive ability. Yes, infertiliyt vaccines are real and, frankly, unless you are willing to test every vial of vaccine held out to you as “your” vaccine, you have absolutely no way of knowing what is in that vial,
    Big Pharma 1. Big Regulation 1 Public -100.

  3. Margaret says

    Mainstream media continues to say that pro vaccine people have science on their side. However until proper placebo trials are done this is not so. At present all vaccines are tested against another vaccine – called concomitant studies. This is like a tobacco company testing for cancer by giving one group a different brand of cigarettes and if there is no difference in the cancer rate, the brand is declared safe. We need proper retrospective study with vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. VAERS data base is the main way we can test if vaccines are really safe. Unfortunately less than 1 – 10% of adverse events are reported. We need mandatory reporting of all adverse events.

    23 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease and the prevalence is rising. It is a disease which has never been studied by big pharma in relation to vaccines and there is a good reason for this: It has a strong relationship to autism as autoimmune disease can attack the brain.

    Chopra Microbiologist says that anyone knowing the basics of biology should know:

    ‘1. That all vaccines by their very nature are antigens and that every antigen by defintion must be a foreign protein …;

    2. That no foreign protein can be absorbed into the blood stream unless it is digested in the alimentary canal into its basic amino acids;

    3. That it is these amino acids which after being absorbed into the blood stream are reconstituted into one’s own proteins and it is these proteins which distinguishes every being of existence into self and non-self.

    4. That any interference or tampering with these laws of existence can bring calamity to the being in which it occurs such as by causing auto-immune conditions like autism, etc.

    Why calamity?

    What happens is that vaccines force foreign protein into the body, bypassing all mechanisms used by the immune system to avoid such invasion.

    -Think of organ transplants. The immune system must rid itself of what is foreign. It will not stop until it has. It will attack itself to do so if necessary – so fundamental is integrity of self versus invader.

    So what happens to the immune system when vaccines jump past its neutralization of foreign proteins before they can enter the bloodstream, and instead foreign matter is injected into the body? Just like you, the immune system must attack whatever is shot into it, and in being unable to rid itself of that matter or break it down, it attacks again and again, attacking the body itself. Thus, autoimmune reactions, which are self-attacks. The more vaccines, the more foreign protein is being shot into the body, the more the reactions, the more the body attacks itself.’

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