Daniela Sanchez – Final Essay – Team 6

Daniella –

Very good essay. Interesting take on the dynamics of members of the anti-vaccine movement and the role social media plays. Not sure if this is the final essay, as there is no media.  


Measles, Mommy Bloggers, & the MMR Vaccine

During the measles outbreak that occurred in New York throughout December 2018, online anti-vaccination bloggers incited conversation on the MMR vaccine’s connection with developing autism. These bloggers are using their role on social media to employ the rhetorical tactics of logos, pathos, and ethos to persuade their audience against vaccination by manipulating proof that disproves their claim.

The main trending source for anti-vaccination bloggers are new mothers who have just given birth. These women have blindly followed the anti-vaccination movement because in their eyes, they are doing the best they can for their children. This movement has rapidly spread through this community due to the increasing accessibility to social media. These new mothers are exposed to social media groups, predominantly on Facebook, where other concerned parents warn them of the supposed dangers of the MMR vaccine. The origins of this mentality are attributed to a fraudulent 1998 research article linking the MMR vaccines to autism, publicized by The Lancet and retracted in 2010. (Steiner 61) Although retracted, this was the foundation for “mommy bloggers” to emerge and create anti-vaccination Facebook groups and communities. These women have successfully brainwashed their audience into the mentality that the MMR vaccine poses a threat to their children’s health, besides the overwhelming amount of information refuting this claim. However, this fraudulent article was only the beginning of studies and analysis of theories trying to connect MMR to autism used by mommy bloggers in an attempt to use logos.

The Generation Rescue organization is “the leading national organization that provides hope, information and immediate treatment assistance to families affected by autism spectrum disorders.”  (“Who We Are.”) This organization posted an article link to their website, stating that this new scientific review still explores the bounds of the autism-vaccine debate through published theories. “Vaccines and Autism: A New Scientific Review.” Jenna McCarthy, director for Generation Rescue and spokesperson for the anti-vaccination group, is one of the many mothers holding on to claims such as these to try to continue proving the theory of MMR causing autism. However, in an article posted by CBS News, University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Brian Strom, does not find this article remarkable or haven proven anything. Dr. Storm emphasized that this scientific review is just that: a review of scientific theories, therefore “any speculation about an explanation for a (non-existing) relationship is irrelevant.” (Attkisson) Although this review has been rejected by a medical professional, mommy bloggers are still using this and other weak evidence to logically persuade their readers to the conclusion that the MMR vaccine causes autism, or at the very least that it has not been proven it doesn’t.

Anti-vaccination mommy vloggers also appeal to their audience’s pathos through telling their own or other’s stories of children with autism. However, recently many of these women have begun to appeal to women’s trust of their “motherly instincts” and distrust of the medical establishment. According to Valenti’s Medium article, “There is ample evidence published in scientific journals that women are more likely than men to be disbelieved or not taken seriously when they report chronic pain or fatigue, among other symptoms, and to have their concerns written off as ‘all in their head.’” Situations like these feed to the trusting only motherly intuitions and doing their own research online without fact checking instead of believing credible health professionals. This problem has become so vast that when McCarthy appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show to talk about the proof for her beliefs, she replied “My science is Evan. He’s at home. That’s my science.” (Valenti) With McCarthy being such an established anti-vaccine leader, opinions like these truly influence her followers into believing that they are following the right path when their emotions are being manipulated into feeling distrust towards others. Furthermore, mommy vloggers have unknowingly established their credibility through their innate appeal to celebrity and refusal of loneliness. These women create communities in which their opinions will be supported and heard, gathering more support while growing their public. In efforts to do this, they combat the loneliness they may feel as a new mother. In McCarthy’s situation, she is on the board of directors for an organization helping those affected by autism, boosting her credibility as a role model to follow for this movement.

Additionally, mommy bloggers conceal information to themselves and their followers by controlling the flow of information to them. Any time they get attacked for their ideas, they refute it and stand their ground to maintain their façade the MMR vaccine causing autism. However, this secrecy can hurt at-risk population and children of contracting the possibly fatal Measles disease. Children benefit from other’s immunity in the idea of herd immunity where children who can not get vaccinated due to a health risk must rely on this idea dependent on everyone around them being vaccinated. (Steiner 66) However, as a society we must also change how these people are approached to avoid them shutting off logical explanations for their misinformed ideals. According to “Fear, Numbers, and Measles,” the author relates the parent’s fear of vaccines to their personal story, recounting how they would’ve liked the situation to have occurred and therefore offering a solution to changing these perspectives. Author, Alison Turnbull, delineates three steps that could be useful to shift this ideal. First, acknowledging that the fear is real even if the danger is not. Using numbers to help the person gain perspective. Finally, help make low levels of risk an acceptable part of life. (Turnbull) This tactic to the situation brings awareness to the lack of proper approach from health officials and the media. “Health officials should effectively communicate vaccine safety and risk in this context.” (Holton) To further solve this anti-vaccination problem as a society we must investigate, “Who or what was viewed as responsible for the potential public health impacts of this study? To whom was responsibility attributed? What does this attribution say about journalism practice and risk communication?” (Holton) It’s not just the measles we need to stop from spreading, it’s misinformation.



Works Cited

Attkisson, Sharyl. “Vaccines and Autism: a New Scientific Review.” CBS News, CBS          Interactive, 1 Apr. 2011, www.cbsnews.com/news/vaccines-and-autism-a-new-scientific-review/.

Holton, Avery, et al. “The Blame Frame: Media Attribution of Culpability About the MMR–Autism Vaccination Scare.” Health Communication, vol. 27, no. 7, Oct. 2012, pp. 690–701. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10410236.2011.633158.

Steiner, Linda, and Carolyn Bronstein. “Leave a Comment: Mommyblogs and the Everyday Struggle to Reclaim Parenthood.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, Feb. 2017, pp. 59–76. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14680777.2017.1261840.

Turnbull, AlisonE. “Fear, Numbers, and Measles.” Health Communication, vol. 26, no. 8, Dec. 2011, pp. 775–776. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10410236.2011.616629.

“Vaccines and Autism: A New Scientific Review.” Generation Rescue | Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Organization, 25 Apr. 2011, www.generationrescue.org/latest-news/vaccines-and-autism-a-new-scientific-review/.

Valenti, Jessica, and Jessica Valenti. “Why Women Lead the Anti-Vaxx Movement.” Medium, Medium, 20 Feb. 2019, medium.com/s/jessica-valenti/why-women-lead-the-anti-vaxx-movement-13bb6ff6ae5c.

“Who We Are.” Generation Rescue | Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Organization, www.generationrescue.org/who-we-are/.


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