[Guest presenter] Anne Hagen Berg on Questioning MMR safety on Danish primetime TV 1993-1997

Past event

An ERC BodyCapital working day presentation

2 November 2020

On 2 November 2020, the BodyCapital group had the pleasure of hearing about Anne Hagen Berg's research.

Anne Hagen Berg is a historian focusing on the political history of the health care sector and the development of medical care in the twentieth century. She finished her PhD at the University of Southern Denmark on a dissertation about the introduction of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in Denmark 1987 and the political and scientific processes that preceded the introduction. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Danish Centre for Welfare Studies, University of Southern Denmark, where she is researching the use of age criteria in Danish hospitals since the 1970s.


Lay experts, whiste-blowing doctors, and indifferent authorities. Questioning MMR safety on Danish primetime TV 1993-1997.

Around the turn of the millennium, the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine was at the center of an international health scare as it was accused of causing autism in children. The MMR-autism hypothesis is commonly attributed to the now infamous British doctor and researcher Andrew Wakefield who in 1998 claimed to have proven the connection. This was widely reported in media worldwide, leading to drops in vaccine in uptake in many places. There is, however, a pre-history to the Wakefield scandal that is widely overlooked. The concern about whether MMR could cause autism or other conditions was present years earlier, even in a generally vaccination-positive country like Denmark. Public service broadcasting proved to be an important factor in the local questioning of the safety of and need for MMR. During the 1990s, the Danish TV station DR screened anti-MMR documentaries that gave speaking time to self-reported parents of vaccine-injured children and apparent whistle-blowing doctors. Most of the participants later became well-known anti-vaccination activists. The one-sided angle in the programs raised concern among the health authorities and political authorities, and the documentaries made way for the establishment of the first formalized anti-vaccination organization in Denmark. Thus, the case reflects TV as part of the larger societal and political conversation about child health and immunization, and it opens the question of how the MMR-autism discourse was shared via international networks where TV could play important mediating roles – also before Wakefield.