Objective: To examine how journals and magazines disseminate research evidence and guidance on best practice to health professionals by aligning commentaries on MMR evidence in journals with key events in the MMR controversy.
Design: Content analysis.
Data sources: Comment articles in six commonly read UK publications.
Main outcome measures: Number of comment pieces by publication, year and article type; trends in the focus, tone and inclusion of recommendations on MMR.
Results: 860 articles met the inclusion criteria (British Medical Journal n=104, Community Practitioner n=45, Health Visitor n=24, Practice Nurse n=61, Nursing Standard n= 61 and Pulse n=565). Of these 860 comment pieces, 264 made some reference to evidence endorsing the safety of MMR. Around one in ten were rated as negative (10.9%, n=29) or neutral (11.3%, n=30) in relation to MMR safety, and nearly a quarter (22.7%, n=60) were rated as mixed. Following the publication of Wakefield et al’s 1998 paper there was a period of neutrality. In 2000, despite growing public concerns and widespread media coverage, fewer than 20 comment pieces were published. Less than a quarter of comment pieces (n=196, 22.7%) included recommendations.
Conclusion: While a period of neutrality may reflect a professional response to uncertainty by holding back until consensus emerges, it may also represent a missed opportunity to promote evidence-based practice.