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Vaccines: Calling the Shots

Measles. Mumps. Whooping cough. Diseases that were largely eradicated in the U.S. a generation ago are returning. Across America and around the globe, children are getting sick and dying from preventable diseases — in part, because some parents are choosing to skip their children’s shots. Misinformation about vaccines can spread quickly, creating confusion about the relative risks of vaccinating vs. not vaccinating. NOVA's Vaccines: Calling The Shots encouraged parents to ask questions and use the best available evidence to make decisions about how to protect their children. Featuring scientists, pediatricians, psychologists, anthropologists, and parents grappling with vaccine-related questions, the film took viewers around the world to explore the history and science behind vaccinations, track epidemics, hear from parents wrestling with vaccine-related questions, and shed light on the risks of opting out.

The project’s goal was to avoid polarizing frames while underscoring vaccinations’ critical role in public health. To be accessible to all audiences, the film focused on vaccine-hesitant parents asking the many questions concerned parents might ask. In partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the education and outreach campaign further invited parents to ask pediatricians and researchers questions about the benefits and risks of vaccines on many online and social forums. The project also set out to educate audiences about the “real” science of vaccines, explaining the link between the MMR vaccine and autism is a myth, propagated by a single specious study. It also presented the latest science on autism, outlining its genetic and environmental roots. These key Q & As and science information was extended through community toolkits, a journalist guide on vaccines, PBS KIDS on-air promos, pediatrician and science researcher blogs, and a New York Times op-ed about vaccination – all timed around the film’s premiere.

Vaccines: Calling The Shots’ public media and education campaign secured 1.5 billion positive media impressions and received the Autism Science Foundation’s “Media Impact Award.” After the initiative, California and other states tightened their vaccination exemptions and, in the six months following the campaign, overall U.S. vaccination rates went up by almost 10%. 

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