Measles appeared as a villain in the last episode of the CBS show Madam Secretary . In the story arc, the risks of vaccine hesitation were captured – and it shows how a fictitious television program can convey facts.
The episode is recent, with measles in the news. Outbreaks have spread across the country and technology giants Facebook, Google and Amazon have come under fire for allowing the distribution of false vaccine information on their platforms. But the timing is just a coincidence, says executive producer David Grae. Even before measles began to make news in 201
One of the main stories in the episode revolves around Daisy Grant, the foreign minister's press coordinator (played by Patina Miller), who returns from a cruise and ends up in quarantine with only her young daughter Joanna. They discover that Joanna's girlfriend, another child on the cruise, has not been vaccinated and has become infected with measles during the trip. Joanna had received a dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The show says it is 93 percent effective: Joanna drops to the remaining 7 percent. She pulls off, but Joanna's unvaccinated girlfriend suffers from a measles complication, the encephalitis that damages her brain.
Mrs. Secretary is of course fiction. But fiction may be a good vector of facts – at least if done right, says Beth Hoffman, a research associate at the Center for Media, Technology and Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh. Hoffman and her colleagues examine what viewers learn from medical stories on television. And in some different newspapers, they report that TV shows are particularly good at getting students and the public well or poorly involved.
In one article, they dug up the scientific literature for a handful of studies examining what viewers take from medical dramas like Gray's Anatomy . There are not many studies out there. But their review of research, which was published in the journal Health Education Research in 2017, reports that people are absorbing medical news from television and may even change their news behavior based on what they see on the screen. "Entertainment narratives affect perception, knowledge, and ultimately, their health behavior," says Hoffman. Although she has no background on vaccine messaging studies, she says, "There are good reasons to believe that storylines about vaccine-preventable diseases can have a positive impact on the perception of vaccination."
s Grae says that entire team felt this responsibility and wanted to get their facts right – especially when it comes to a controversial issue like vaccines. "It would not be artistically responsible to leave room for" Oh, maybe it's okay not to vaccinate, "he says." And if you want to do it right, Googling is not enough, it's never enough if you have problems
So the show's writers turned to Hollywood, Health & Society , a program run by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Norman Lear Center that helps bridge the gap between the entertainment industry and health, science and safety professionals. (There's also a similar program called the National Academies of Sciences Science and Entertainment Exchange.) "We understand that it's fiction and we need to take some liberties," says Kate Folb, director of Hollywood, Health & Society Public health information is as accurate as possible, she says. "We do not want to misinform the audience because we know it will respond."
There are some theories about why this is so, says Folb. One is that immersion in an action reduces the intellectual defenses of the audience. "You became your hero, you run with them through the forest. They're right there with them, "says Folb. "If and when information is presented, it will be used on a much deeper level." The other theory is that viewers could identify with and believe in characters they connect to in TV shows, she says, and scientific information to be as accurate as possible. "Because it inhales while looking," she says.
Vaccine expert Peter Hotez, Dean of the National Tropical Medicine School Baylor College of Medicine says he previously advised with Hollywood, Health & Society but was not involved in the episode. And apart from a few minor issues – such as the likelihood that Joanna would contract measles despite a single dose of vaccine – he applauded how the episode dealt with measles and vaccine dysfunction. "It was really helpful that they showed measles the way they are: as a serious disease," he says. "You have not tried to dismiss it as a benign disease or just a rash, and that's an important point."
The episode covered many important topics related to measles and vaccines, including misinformation, Hotez says. As a result, the little girl's mother, who has brain problems with measles, explains why she did not vaccinate her daughter. She had thought measles had been completely eradicated in the US, and she was afraid of vaccinations because of the articles she had read. "There were all these articles about possible damage from vaccines and then a study in which there was no evidence, and then you read another article – and you do not know what to think," says the mother on the show.
The show's authors and the characters they create treat this family with kindness: parents are not accused of having another child or being taken for to interest the vaccine propaganda. They are treated as parents who want to do the best for their child and are misled by the spread of fear-inducing anti-vaccine propaganda out there. This, in part, is part of the show's recurring characters and, in part, a deliberate decision made by the Madam Secretary team after talking to the experts at Hollywood, Health & Society, Grae says. "They do not reach people by scolding them. They reach people by kindly clarifying the truth without berating them or telling them that they are stupid. "
Reaching people is something in which the television is particularly good, says Hotez, who wrote a book about vaccine research and a child's parents with autism called vaccines did not lead to Rachel's autism . "Let's face it, at the end of the day, many more people will see this episode of Madam Secretary (19459004) reading my book," he says.
The episode ends with a public service announcement, in Téa Leoni who plays the Secretary of State, gives more information to viewers at https://www.unicefusa.org/vax Finally, the team's goal is to make a dramatic show, but in this case They also had the opportunity to educate people. "This is a win-win situation, it's good for everyone, so we like to do it," says Grae.