Through the rise of technological advances in medicine,the vaccine has changed the world for the greater good of the human race.Making a great triumph and virtually eliminating an array of life-threateningdiseases, from smallpox to diphtheria, thus adding approximately thirty yearsto many humans’ life spans. Although, a new complication has arisen, possiblylinking neurological digression with this rise of new vaccines. Such adigression has forced parents to exempt their children from receiving vaccinationsand brought forth mental anguish affecting the minds of many.In the Frontline episode The Vaccine War, a progressivelydistressful debate ensues among many scientists and doctors within the publichealth system and an unnerving alliance of parents, politicians, andcelebrities.
The topic of debate is the overwhelming pressure parents feel tovaccinate their children and their right to decline such vaccinations. Inseveral American neighborhoods, groups of parents have been exercising theirright to refuse vaccinations, which has elevated anxiety on the return ofvaccine-preventable diseases such as pertussis and measles. The reason suchparents are denying their children various vaccines such as the MMR “tripleshot” for measles, mumps, and rubella is because they are convinced that it islinked to autism, a link that has yet to be proven. Many of these parents arefocused solely on their children, not taking into account that their decisionmay put the American populace at risk for disease. Such parents are notthinking about other members of society that vaccines don’t work for, and incertain adolescents the effects deteriorate, thus only when every person isimmunized the “heard immunity” is successful. Throughout the episode various forms of media help spreadthis debate virally across the World Wide Web, from the biased information ofnumerous blogging sites to the overwhelming voice displayed by people on YouTube.
In addition, several celebrities make an appearance to illustrate their viewson this matter. Celebrities such as former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy andcompanion Jim Carrey as well as an appearance from a Redskins cheerleaderDesiree Jennings, all who claim there is a connection between vaccines andneurological disorders. Though there is a vast amount of compelling data fromboth sides of the spectrum this issue has yet to be resolved because thesituation is very complicated. Furthermore, the debate has escalated far beyondjust the medical risks and benefits but now has an ideological principleregarding a parent’s decision and governmental confines.
Scientist HankJennings says, “They still want it to be a choice. They don’t want it to becompulsory” (Palfreman, 2010). Additionally, despite the scientific fact thatvaccines are safe, government rule regarding parental choice is anothercomponent increasing the fight against vaccines.Throughout The Vaccine War, the particular theory exemplifiedon the human behavior is Cognitive Dissonance Theory.
Cognitive DissonanceTheory is a notion created by Leon Festinger that disputes that dissonance isan awkward feeling that encourages people to take action to diminish it. Thistheory is composed of two components: cognitions and cognitive dissonance.Cognitions are defined as, “ways of knowing, beliefs, judgments, and thoughts”(West & Turner, 2009). Cognitive dissonance is defined as, “feeling ofdiscomfort resulting from inconsistent attitudes, thoughts and behaviors” (West& Turner, 2009). Furthermore, Roger Brown (1965) comments that theessential factors of the theory follow relatively straightforward principles:”A state of cognitive dissonance is said to be a state of psychologicaldiscomfort or tension which motivates efforts to achieve consonance.
Dissonanceis the name for a disequilibrium and consonance the name for an equilibrium”(p.584). Additionally, the theory permits the two components to have threesingular associations being consonant, dissonant, or irrelevant. The initial concept within Cognitive Dissonance Theory ismagnitude of dissonance, which exemplifies the measurable amount of dissonancea person encounters. Moreover, Cognitive Dissonance Theory relates to themethods of selective exposure, selective attention, selective interpretation,and selective retention as the theory expects that people will avoidinformation that amplifies dissonance. Selective exposure is a way to reducedissonance by searching for dependable information that does not already exist.
Selective attention is to be aware of information that is consistent withpresent actions and values. Selective interpretation refers to understandingvague information so that it can become easily adapted. Selective retentioninvolves remembering information so that it can become easily adapted topresent ideas and actions. Furthermore, another intriguing concept thatFestinger created is minimal justification, which is being able to offer theleast encouragement necessary to get a person to change.
When analyzing The Vaccine War in conjunction with theCognitive Dissonance Theory it is apparent throughout the episode that thoughthe many parents are looking out for the best interest of their children theyare aware that they are diminishing the “heard immunity” of the Americanpopulation. Such actions are conflicting against each other and this is furtherexemplified when Dr. Jim Shames, a public health officer from Jackson, Oregon,is having a very calm and collective conversation with several mothers who havenot had their children vaccinated. In this conversation, Dr. Shames presentsthe three women with a question; what if their unvaccinated child contracts adisease, such as pertussis, and infects a delicate newborn infant who is tooyoung to receive a vaccination? The women seem to be caught off guard by thisquestion and appear to be experiencing cognitive dissonance, as if they havebeen confronted with a problem they do not want to acknowledge. This scenarioillustrates the concept of selective attention, because the women try to avoidthis problem so they in turn can avoid experiencing cognitive dissonance.Moreover, throughout the episode various parents, such as Jenny McCarthy,demonstrate the concept of selective exposure by searching for information onthe Internet that pertains to the link between neurological disorder andvaccines. Whichever side of the debate is correct; there is a much morepertinent question that no scientific study can answer.
That question beingwhether parents have the rights to make choices for their children that involvethe needs for the greater good of the community. With this subject in mind onecan conclude that this debate will not disappear quickly, and solving such apressing issue will arise new complications that will question the rights ofAmerican citizens.