A vaccine discussion forum

By Grant Jacobs 17/10/2012

Introducing the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) forum.

Some time ago while mulling over what science writing (blogging) groups might offer parents with questions about vaccinations, Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not, I came to thinking[1] that in the absence of discussion forums set up by those with expertise in immunisation, a useful compromise might be to ask at science writing groups. It is important that people with relevant expertise be present and that discussions be open.[2]

After I wrote that article I become aware of the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) forum.

IMAC is a nationwide organisation, based at the University of Auckland, launched in 1997, aiming to “to provide New Zealanders with a local source of independent, factual information including benefits and risks regarding immunisation, and vaccine-preventable disease” drawing on international and New Zealand medical research, supported by a large network of health professionals. Further information about their aims are on the IMAC ‘About’ page.

It’s great to see an organisation like this step up and offer a discussion forum – but a pity that it’s not being used.

I suspect a key reason is simply that few are aware of the forum. Another might be that of those that are aware of it, most feel intimated by the idea of writing to an open forum.

Here’s a tip:

Be their hero.

If you are thinking of a question, it’s likely others are too and they’ll be grateful you asked.[3]

Besides, while it’s nice and quiet might be a good time to ask that question that’s been at the back of your mind.

After registering, you can comment on the forum. Once approved, you can initiate new topics. I’m unfamiliar with the details of what approval involves but my impression it is simply the same first-post moderation policy we have here at sciblogs that is intended to screen out spam.


1. Amongst a lot of ruminating I wrote,

If you want an independent source of information on the science, one good source might be research scientists with experience in the relevant field and experience in communicating the science. For independence – research scientists at universities and most research organisations speak for themselves and their field. (It’s common lack of understanding that sees some people lump research scientists in with companies and label them as biased.)

If you want someone you can ask questions to, rather than ‘just’ read a (static) website options are thin on the ground. Relatively few scientists offer to help on-line or in general public settings. It’s something that people in the science communication area have talked about a lot. Most scientists simply haven’t the time to spare, they’re already wearing too many hats; many simply aren’t inclined to for a range of other reasons.

2. I also noted in the comments that a local concern group who oppose vaccines—the Immunisation Awareness Society—in suggesting vaccination discussion forums to their readers don’t,

point to any forums where discussion is open (the IAS forums are closed those without anti-vaccine views, creating an echo-chamber effect), never mind forums where research scientists active in the field write.

This and other forums seem, to my anecdotal experience, have increasingly shut down discussions over the (few) years that I have been aware of them. An effect is that parents visiting them only get to hear the words of those who are ‘in favour’ of those organising the group. It’s really important that discussion be open.

3. My thought comes from advice to me from the first week of lectures at undergraduate universities in New Zealand, which—in my time anyway—were an ‘orientation week’, with clubs vying to sign on students, parties and whatnot. The first lectures were similarly introductory. In one of my first lectures, we were encouraged ask questions. I honestly cannot recall the lecturer’s name, but I can distinctly recall him saying “Be their hero” – pointing out that if you ask likely several other timid souls would thank you. I guess he was appealing to a geeky sense of heroism.

Further vaccine-related reading on Code for life:

Immunisation, then and now

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisation statements in the print media

Positive encouragement for vaccination

Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists

0 Responses to “A vaccine discussion forum”

  • Here at IMAC, we would love to see a bit more genuine discussion in the forum. (as opposed to a flurry of herbal tonic advertisments!) We’ve updated the settings, so I need to approve each initial request, but after that, it’s all yours.
    Feel free to start a new topic- maybe there is an area of interest or concern you have about immunisation that you’d like to explore?
    Look forward to any input.

  • I hope you get some interest. It’s not common to see a forum from a specialist group like that and I’d hope that people make the most of the opportunity.

    It might need for you to put out more widely that this resource is available, e.g. via twitter and other social media – ? Generally you have to bring eyes to a resource. (In my experience, at least.)

  • For readers who have come here from my comment in reply to Shelley Bridgeman’s article, to clarify on my comment there: I believe my original comment did not link to this article, but directly to the IMAC discussion forum. You’re welcome to comment here, of course! (If correct, the NZ Herald web editor has elected to edit my comment. As they per their policy, they are allowed to do this.)