Shortly before my 3 year old son was born, I began researching vaccines. I quickly realized I had opened a Pandora’s box. There was a lot of controversy surrounding vaccines. Confused and wanting to get my thoughts organized, I blogged about what I learned in this post, which is now one of the most popular on my blog.
Since then, the debate has only intensified – especially in the wake of the California measles outbreak, which has triggered a slew of stories on the subject. Articles and editorials in outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times, BBC News, Time Magazine, The Economist and many others vilify the unvaccinated and pro-choicers, portraying them as being ignorant and irresponsible. A few even suggest that the unvaccinated be sued and that doctors who support vaccine choice have their licenses revoked. But why haven’t I seen any stories that mention any of the concerns I raised in my post about the Vaccine Controversy, I wondered? I decided to look into it and now I’m now horrified by what I have discovered.
A core tenet of journalistic professionalism is objectivity, meaning “fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship.” Sadly, the mainstream media does not give fair coverage to the views of those who question the vaccine risk-reward equation. They mislead readers by cherry-picking scary figures, such as the oft-cited statistic that, “2-3 million people died per year from measles before the vaccine was introduced,” when in fact the vast majority of those deaths were from countries with poor sanitation practices. In fact, only a few hundred of those deaths each year were in the US – and that is out of about 3-4 million infected Americans per year back then. In other words, the death rate from measles in the United States before the vaccine was introduced was only about 0.015%. Why is this statistic never mentioned??
I am equally troubled by articles from authors who purport to represent the concerns of those who question vaccine safety and oppose forced vaccination by merely citing the two most controversial vaccine risk figureheads: Andrew Wakefield, the discredited scientist and Jenny McCarthy, whose “ex-Playmate” status is the first thing reporters latch on to, as if that has anything to do with the validity of her concerns. Somehow these reporters all fail to mention any of the following:
- that vaccines don’t work all the time and aren’t 100% safe
- the existence of a vaccine injury compensation fund, which was formed long before the Wakefield paper and has since paid out billions of dollars to families who have proven in court that they were injured by vaccines
- the numerous vaccine recalls due to adverse reactions
- the cases surrounding the Merck whistleblowers who allegedly, “fraudulently misled the government and omitted, concealed, and adulterated material information regarding the efficacy of its mumps vaccine in violation of the FCA [False Claims Act]. (An ongoing court case, but one with little media coverage)
- the ethically troubling conclusion that people who might be harmed by diseases are more important than people who have been harmed by vaccines
- the US government’s persistent refusal to conduct a study of the health outcomes of the vaccinated vs unvaccinated
- depriving Americans of their usual rights to “free and informed consent to an invasive medical procedure; accurate and complete information about vaccine ingredients and possible side effects; and the right to sue manufacturers and medical practitioners directly in the event of injury.”
Why is the media taking sides in this matter? Much has been written about corporate influence of the media, beginning with their strong influence on the medical journals, which is the basis for most media reporting on healthcare topics. For example, this paper by Blasco and Sobbrio cites evidence explaining that the “symbiotic relationship between medical journal and pharmaceutical companies seem to have provided a very fertile ground for commercial media bias. Indeed, various scholars suggest that editorial decisions in medical journals have been, sometimes, influenced by advertisers’ concerns (Fletcher, 2003; Fugh-Berman et al., 2006).” This is described further on the wikipedia page for Medical Journalism. Pharmaceutical companies happen to also be among the biggest spenders on advertisements, so they fund a disproportionately high amount of the media companies’ budgets. In fact drug companies spend more on marketing than on R&D, which is interesting considering how often we hear them justify their high prices by blaming it on the high cost of R&D. They also spend spend more on government lobbying than any other industry.
What I didn’t know until very recently, however, is that US government officials, such as former health secretary Kathleen Sebelius, come right out and demand that media outlets not give fair coverage to the views of ‘these people’ (meaning those who question vaccine safety). She stated in a magazine interview in 2010 that, “We have reached out to media outlets to try to get them to not give the views of these people [vaccine safety critics] equal weight in their reporting to what science has shown and continues to show about the safety of vaccines,” as quoted in this paper by NYU Law Professor Mary S. Holland.
What other government and corporate-sponsored media manipulation tactics are being used that we’re not even hearing about?
As I said, I am horrified.