How Two Companies Accidentally Committed Anti-Vaccine PR Blunders

As preventable outbreaks rise, businesses need to inoculate themselves against anti-vaccine PR blunders.

Apr 16, 2014 at 2:00PM

Measles in Manhattan, mumps in Ohio, and whooping cough in San Diego have been making the news over the past month, with at least five outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases under way now around the U.S. Health officials are blaming low vaccination rates, and many states that allow parents to opt out of vaccines for reasons other than health conditions are starting to reconsider those exemptions.

Oregon and Washington, both sites of recent measles outbreaks, have adopted stricter rules for vaccine exemptions to try to get the public-health problem under control. Colorado's state senate held hearings last week on a bill that would require parents who want a non-medical exemption to first take an online course about the pros and cons of childhood vaccines. The bill passed the state house in March with bipartisan support.

Public health issues can dent a company's public image

As people start to see the results of not vaccinating, the tide is turning in the debate over vaccine safety, and businesses concerned with their public image need to take notice. Associating with anti-vaccination groups can lead to the kind of press that businesses and brands would much rather avoid.

Brinker International (NYSE:EAT) brand Chili's found this out the hard way this month. The restaurant chain had planned to donate a percentage of April 7's sales to the National Autism Association as part of Autism Awareness Month. Sounds good, right? Diagnosis of autism-spectrum disorders has been on the rise for years, and there's a definite need for more research and better support.

But Chili's got burned when media outlets pointed out that the NAA has a history of claiming that vaccinations can cause or worsen autism—a claim that's been thoroughly and repeatedly discredited by researchers. Chili's ended up canceling the fundraiser the day before it was scheduled, but not before ending up all over the news for its misstep.

Expect more push-back going forward

The Chili's fundraiser isn't the only instance of push-back this year. On April 2, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) users and Raw Story took the social media platform to task for marking World Autism Awareness Day with a post by celebrity vaccine critic Jenny McCarthy. And for five days last month, McCarthy found her Twitter feed flooded with pro-vaccination tweets after asking followers what they look for in an ideal mate. That blowback, chronicled by longtime critic Phil Plait of Slate, may have been part of the reason she wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Sun-Times last week trying to distance herself from her anti-vaccine views.

It didn't work. Time magazine's Jeffrey Kluger, whom McCarthy mentioned by name in her essay, fired back the same day, accusing her of "trying to launder [her] long, deeply troubling, anti-vaccine history." Other media piled on, and Twitterers used her #JennyAsks hashtag to take her to task for backpedalling.

PR partners need a clean bill of health

McCarthy still has her job as a co-hostess on ABC's "The View" (despite protests from viewers and public health officials), still has support among the anti-vax community, and has a new endorsement deal with privately owned Vemma Nutrition Company. But as states and public health agencies work to get more children vaccinated—and as reports continue to come in of preventable disease outbreaks—being associated with anti-vaccine ideas is becoming more of an image liability. Bottom line, it pays to give potential charities and celebrity spokespeople a thorough checkup before partnering with them for PR. As Chili's found out, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Invest in the next wave of health care innovation
The Economist compares this disruptive invention to the steam engine and the printing press. Business Insider says it's "the next trillion dollar industry." And the technology behind it is poised to set off one of the most remarkable health care revolutions in decades. The Motley Fool's exclusive research presentation dives into this technology's true potential, and its ability to make life-changing medical solutions never thought possible. To learn how you can invest in this unbelievable new technology, click here now to see our free report.

Casey Kelly Barton has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers