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How Politics Redefined the Vaccine Debate

It seems that no topic, however far afield from their area of expertise, is off-limits for U.S. presidential candidates. Running for president seems similar to preparing for a game show.  It involves cramming in a lot of facts on disparate subjects (complicated by travel, public speaking and baby-kissing), with the hope of raising enough money to win it all.

So it’s not surprising that when a candidate is asked a question on an emerging issue, they don’t always have their “final answer” ready. That’s what happened to some in the wake of a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in January 2015.

Cision tracked all the related social and electronic print media over a four-month period (January – April 2015) to uncover the focus, themes and perspectives on the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MRR) vaccine. I found it interesting to see how the candidates’ comments changed the online conversation about vaccination. At the same time, the digital backlash also helped change the positions of at least two candidates, Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

Want to see what Cision uncovered from the thousands of news sites, blogs and social networks it analyzed? Get the free white paper today!

From Safety to Parents Rights

Doctors-Vaccine (2)

What started as a discussion about the efficacy and safety of the MMR vaccine morphed into an issue of parents’ rights.

Details of an NBC “Today Show” interview with President Obama were released on Sunday, February 1 in which he categorically said people should vaccinate their children.  “The science is pretty indisputable,” he asserted.

All the candidates (and presumed candidates) were put on the spot. On that Monday, Rand Paul addressed questions on the subject when he appeared on a morning radio interview.  Later, on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” with Kelly Evans, he said, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” This view, strongly disputed by the medical community, caused an uproar.

That evening, Hillary Clinton weighed in on the topic with a single tweet that was retweeted 41,420 times, favorited 38,288 times, and referenced in 815 posts from January through April.

Ted Cruz and Chris Christie did not go as far as Rand, but said they favored giving parents the choice to immunize. Rand soon saw the benefit of this position, as it pit families against Big Government. He later “clarified” his earlier statement to distance himself from the efficacy of the vaccine, focusing instead on the right of parents to make their own decision on immunization.

The vaccine topic had a lot of traction, and social conversations threatened to derail the then-unannounced campaign of Chris Christie. Several news outlets unearthed previous comments made on air and in a letter circulated by the then-gubernatorial candidate in 2009, acknowledging a vaccine-autism link (previously and thoroughly debunked by scientists). By April, Christie had reversed his initial statement, coming out in favor of mandatory immunizations. If only he had the benefit of a Cision Global Insights Report initially!

HillaryClinton_Vaccine

Old news was also a factor for Hillary Clinton. While she did not make other comments on the topic besides her popular tweet, much of the coverage tying her to conversations about vaccines and the pharma industry dredged up news of her involvement with the Health Security Act under Bill Clinton’s administration, as well as allegations of the Clinton Health AIDS Initiative working closely with Ranbaxy to distribute substandard generic antiretroviral drugs in developing countries. Whoever said “old news is good news” must not have an Internet connection.

Long-ago comments in threaded conversations and archived discussion topics will continue to weigh in on a topic, because nothing goes away on the Internet. Ever. That’s why it’s so important to understand what is out there and to proactively address and be able to influence online conversations.

How is it done? Cision’s “Social Media and the MMR Vaccine: Conversations and Controversy” white paper analyzes media coverage by brand, share of voice, thematic positioning and market opportunities.

Take a look at it by downloading the white paper or contact us today to learn more about Cision’s customized insight reports. Help your company protect its brand and shape conversations that matter. Think of us as your “phone a friend” option.

Vaccine-White-Paper

Images: Gage SkidmoreDFIDMarc Nozell (Creative Commons) 

About Mathilda Joubert

Mathida Joubert is a Vice President in the Global Insights group at Cision. An analyst at heart, she loves following data bread crumbs to ultimately tell stories. She has consulted numerous automobile manufacturers, biotech and pharma companies, major foundations and other not-for-profit organizations to help them measure the success of their communication activities. Always planning the next place to visit, she’s visited over 30 States in the U.S. and extensively abroad, but her favorite remains her native country, South Africa.

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