Measles, Moral Regulation and the Social Construction of Risk: Media Narratives of “Anti-Vaxxers” and the 2015 Disneyland Outbreak


  • Gabriela Capurro Carleton University
  • Josh Greenberg Carleton University
  • Eve Dubé CHU de Québec, Infectious and immune diseases
  • Michelle Driedger University of Manitoba



Risk Communication, Vaccines, Moral Panic, Moral Regulation, Discourse Analysis, Outbreak


This paper examines media coverage of the 2014-15 measles outbreak that began at Disneyland and spread throughout the United States and into Canada and Mexico. Specifically, it focuses on the construction of ‘anti-vaxxers’ as a central character in the outbreak’s unfolding narrative who came to represent a threat to public health and moral order. Although parents who hold strong anti-vaccine views are small in number, media representations of ‘anti-vaxxers’ as prominent figures fail to capture the broad range of views and behaviours that constitute what we today call ‘vaccine hesitancy’ and thus delimit our understanding of this increasingly complex health issue.

Author Biographies

Gabriela Capurro, Carleton University

Gabriela Capurro is a PhD candidate in Communication at Carleton University. Her research focuses on risk and health communication, particularly outbreak discourses related to viral and bacterial infections. Her dissertation research analyses the rhetorical construction of “superbugs” as a public health risk. She holds a SSHRC doctoral award. After earning her M.A. degree she worked as a researcher at the Concordia Science Journalism Project (Montreal) where she focused on public perception of new technologies.

Josh Greenberg, Carleton University

Josh Greenberg is Director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. His research examines media representations of outbreaks, and corporate, government and NGO risk communication strategies and campaigns. In addition to his scholarship, Dr. Greenberg has provided research support and advice to the World Health Organization and Public Health Agency of Canada, and served as an expert panelist for the Council of Canadian Academies and National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Eve Dubé, CHU de Québec, Infectious and immune diseases

Eve Dubé is a medical anthropologist and a researcher at Quebec National Institute of Public Health and the Research Center of the CHU de Quebec-Université Laval. Her research focuses on the socio-cultural aspects of vaccination. She is interested in vaccine hesitancy and doing various related projects. She was a member of the WHO working group on Vaccine Hesitancy. Since 2014, she leads the Social Sciences and Humanities Network (SSHN) of the Canadian Immunization Research Network.

Michelle Driedger, University of Manitoba

S. Michelle Driedger is a Professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Environment and Health Risk Communication, in the Department of Community Health Sciences, at the University of Manitoba, and a member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Network with the Canadian Immunization Research network. Her program of research examines harms and benefit communication in primary care and public health, with a specific focus on vaccination decisions.