30 October 2012
Professor Gareth Williams, Professor of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, delivered the Milroy Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in London on Tuesday [30 October 2012].
In his lecture, entitled ‘Flat learning curve: why the anti-vaccination movement has survived into the 21st century’, Professor Williams argued that despite the fact vaccination has saved more lives than any other medical technology, it has been attacked and undermined ever since Jenner first reported his inoculations against smallpox in 1798. Modern-day campaigns, such as that which targeted the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, have been effective in driving public opinion away from accepting vaccination, and this, he said, has led to a persistence of these infections.
The fact the anti-vaccination lobby has survived into the 21st century is, said Professor Williams, evidence of a catastrophic failure of public confidence in science, and he argued this is largely the result of the medical profession’s inability to communicate important public-health messages.
Professor Williams believes vaccination strategies will remain under threat until the medical community learns to match the power of the messages coming from the anti-vaccination movement.
The Milroy Lecture is an annual RCP lecture on topics surrounding state medicine and public hygiene, and was founded in the 19th century thanks to a bequest from Dr Gavin Milroy FRCP.