How Fake Vaccine News Is Dangerous to Us All
Fake news is nothing new to vaccine advocates.
For years we’ve been countering vaccine misinformation from a large number of sites such as Mercola, Natural News, Age of Autism and dozens of others. They each have their own way of claiming that vaccine risks outweigh their benefits, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence from experts around the world that says otherwise.
Despite the fact that these sites fail to provide evidence to back up their false claims, the misinformation they routinely publish is widely circulated on social media and it’s likely that their efforts can contribute to the doubts that some Americans have about the safety and efficacy of today’s vaccines.
This is why day after day, and year after year, countless organizations like Every Child By Two, work hard to provide the public with evidence-based information about vaccines through informative websites like Vaccinate Your Family, and social media accounts like the Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page and @ShotofPrev Twitter account.
But this week, fake vaccine news has entered an entirely new realm and it is rather concerning.
Yesterday I woke to such headlines as, ‘Trump Orders CDC to Remove all Vaccination Related Information from Website’ and ‘President Trump Signed an Executive Order Banning Childhood Vaccinations for 90 Days’.
These, and other outrageous stories that are circulating on the internet, signal a new level of hysteria that is dangerous for us all.
While it is comforting to know that these articles were irresponsibly inaccurate, I’m still left questioning the motives and intent behind these headlines. What were the the authors’ and publishers’ hoping to achieve?
Were they simply looking to drive traffic to their low ranking news sites?
That can be one of the most obvious reasons why we are seeing such blatant click bait these days.
Were they somehow trying to encourage vaccine refusers by giving them some glimmer of hope?
It’s easy to see how these headlines could encourage vaccine refusers. But when the reports are inaccurate, what is the point? Is it simply a “gotcha” moment where people are secretly laughing at how anyone could believe such tall tales?
Meanwhile, vaccine refusers are organizing themselves in hopes that this new administration will be sympathetic to their concerns. They are effectively seizing the opportunity to advance their demands. They are reaching out to legislators and even planning a march on Washington to ensure their concerns aren’t being ignored. The total irony in all of this is that if they were to actually believe that Trump had taken the actions indicated in these articles, then they wouldn’t need to march now would they?
The truth is that they are just as concerned and uncertain about the future of vaccine policy as vaccine supporters are – which is why their idols have tried to come to their rescue.
In the past few weeks we’ve seen photos of vaccine skeptic Andrew Wakefield attending one of President Trump’s inaugural balls. Of course, he claimed that this was a “very exciting time” and that he would have an audience with influential people that he could talk to about his criticism of the CDC. But so far, nothing.
And then something similar played out a few weeks ago when Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told reporters that Trump had asked him to chair a new vaccine safety commission. Plenty of mainstream news sources reported on Kennedy’s statements as if they were truth, which resulted in immediate rage by vaccine supporters. But in the end, there was never any indication from President Trump that could confirm what Kennedy had alleged.
While the media continues to give vaccine critics hope, Trump’s silence on these issue suggests that all that has really been accomplished is that Kennedy and Wakefield have gained publicity and reinvigorated support for their personal aspirations. Meanwhile, as scientists, journalists and public health supporters continue to grow concerned about the unknown direction of the administration, there a lot of people reacting with hysteria and buying into these absurd possibilities, as we see with the latest cycle of “news”.
If these fake vaccine news articles were intended to motivate people to voice their support for vaccines, then we’re headed down the wrong path.
We’ve yet to see how Donald Trump’s Presidency will impact such government agencies as The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But one thing is certain. With all the uncertainties that we face, we can not afford to politicize immunizations.
When it comes to protecting the interest of public health, we must continue to operate in an environment that does not express a political bias.
We must work from the premise that public health is, and should continue to be, a priority for everyone in our country because it keeps us safe from dangerous threats that are both foreign and domestic. While historically there can be some differences of opinions on how all this is best accomplished, the idea of preserving public health must remain the premise of all that we work towards. And we can’t do that if we are responding to hysteria or starting with false accusations of what we “believe” to be the opinions of Republicans or Democrats.
Now is the time for public health advocates and vaccine supporters to roll up our nonpartisan sleeves and get to work.
We have a strong case in the value of vaccines and we don’t have to resort to hysteria. We just can’t afford to get distracted from our mission and admit defeat before we’ve even had a chance to sit at the table.
Fortunately, there is a very small percentage of parents, estimated at about 1-2%, who purposely refuse all vaccinations for their children. Even the latest Pew Research tells us that the overwhelming majority of Americans support school-based vaccine requirements. More importantly, the survey also found that both Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to support school-based vaccine requirements.
This is not a useless data point. This is evidence that we need to stop assuming that we know someone’s opinions on immunizations based on their political leanings. To do so is reckless and inaccurate.
We must work on a calculated approach to get the facts to those in positions of influence. We must ask to sit down with the new administration and with legislators on both sides of the aisle and show them that our support of vaccines is grounded in science. We must educate them on the many ways we are currently ensuring vaccine safety and oversight. And we must present them with the overwhelming cost-benefit of vaccines. While we should certainly reference the outbreaks of preventable disease that continue to threaten our communities, we must also point out that for decades, safe and effective vaccines have been silently preventing dozens of different preventable diseases from attacking our citizens day after day.
Today I would like to challenge all vaccine supports, regardless of your political opinions, to look for opportunities where we can work together and raise our collective voices in new, exciting and positive ways.
As an example, just last week Every Child By Two began collecting individual signatures to illustrate the public’s support of federal funding for critical immunization programs. Although the letter detailed below has been sent off to Congress earlier this week with close to 5,000 signatures on it, we plan to continue to collect names in the coming weeks to add to the ongoing funding discussions that are occurring on Capitol Hill.
If you haven’t already added your signature, we encourage you to do so here: http://tinyurl.com/SaveVaccineFunding.
We also encourage you to follow our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page and subscribe to our Shot of Prevention Blog so that you can be alerted to various other calls for action that we will be initiating over the course of the next few weeks and months.
Let’s work together, as we’ve done for decades, to ensure that everyone throughout our nation, is aware of, and has access to, life-saving vaccines.
Congressional Funding for Vaccine & Constituent Sign on Letter
Dear Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Democratic Leader Pelosi:
The attached document contains the names of more than 4,500 members of the public from both sides of the political spectrum who are concerned about federal immunization funding in support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state immunization programs.
Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements in health, saving millions of lives worldwide as well as trillions of dollars in costs to this country. Over $600 million of Prevention and Public Health Funds (PPHF) have been invested in immunization, including nearly $402 million supporting core immunization activities. At this time nearly 45% of immunization funding comes from PPHF and a cut in this funding source will cripple the nation’s ability to keep vaccine preventable diseases at bay.
Congressional funding for immunizations supports a vast web of activities, technology and personnel to keep vaccine preventable diseases at bay. It supports essential activities such as: community outreach; disease surveillance, outbreak control; provider and public education; immunization registries; immunization service delivery; and staffing and implementation of the Vaccines For Children (VFC) Program.
As we prepare for the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we ask that Congress provide a continued and sustained investment into immunization programs. If ACA is repealed without an intentional replacement of Prevention Funds back to the Section 317/Immunization program line, the results could be catastrophic to the nation’s immunization programs.
Health programs would be impacted by:
- a minimum 45% cut in program dollars;
- massive public health layoffs;
- a massive reduction in state efforts to respond to food borne outbreaks;
- a massive interruption to efforts to prevent emerging infectious diseases like Ebola and Zika;
- a diminished ability to provide an adequate health response to natural and handmade disasters;
- the elimination of targeted health programs such as those that seek to eliminate Hepatitis B among infants, combat cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), and support adult vaccine initiatives.
As you negotiate the replacement of the Affordable Care Act, we urge you to ensure that the funding for vaccine programs that is currently allocated through the Prevention and Public Health Fund is maintained.