During February 2003 a number of Australian sailors were returned home from their deployment to the Persian Gulf after refusing anthrax vaccination. This paper examines the media coverage of this episode as a case study in how controversies about vaccine safety escalate. Frame analysis of articles from major Australian newspapers (n = 83) and transcripts of radio and television news and current affairs programs (n = 22) to identify the main supportive and oppositional themes used in reportage and media debate. Initially, the major news frames were supportive of the vaccine refusing soldiers, and conveyed a sense of distrust of the government's actions. These initial themes were rapidly re-framed and new dominant discourses appeared. First, sailors went from brave whistleblowers to being portrayed as deserters and cowards. Second, proponents shifted from their portrayal as faceless regulators to personal risk takers embodied in a well-respected Major General having the vaccine. Third, the voluntary nature of the vaccine was emphasised, thus dousing the flames of implied coercion. Marked shifts in the representation of vaccine opponents and proponents possibly contributed to the rapid diminishment of media interest in the story. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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