Anti-vaxxers are up in arms about negative media coverage of their cause. Considering the timing, this is a little surprising: measles, a potentially life-threatening disease especially for unvaccinated babies or people with suppressed immune systems, is on the rise, thanks to anti-vaccination scare tactics. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, anti-vaxxers continue to perpetuate the idea that vaccines do more harm than good.
In February, a measles outbreak in B.C. infected 17 people. This month, whooping cough in Moncton has infected five at a high school and an infant and an adult in Toronto were diagnosed with measles.
And yet the anti-vaxxers are complaining.
Perhaps it is because Health Reporter Carly Weeks has been writing so much science-based news on the topic, including Facebook’s plan to stop the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation.
She broke the story of an anti-vaccine group setting up billboards in Toronto, which led to the billboards being removed by the advertising company the same day after outrage from the public.
And after writing about an anti-vaxxer appearing at a Toronto health conference, that visit was cancelled.
Globe health columnist Andre Picard wrote about the need to enforce vaccinations. “If we’re serious about mandatory vaccination, we need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to fund public health properly to do a job that requires an army of nurses and enormous resources. If we’re serious about keeping our children safe from the growing threat of infectious diseases, we will make that investment.”
And an editorial called for mandatory vaccines.
So what is the complaint from the anti-vaxxers? Well, one official from a group of anti-vaxxers calling themselves “Vaccine Choice Canada” suggested The Globe and Mail wants to “impose vaccinations by coercion” and that The Globe and Mail “undermines freedom of speech.”
Another member of the same group said journalists are “honour-bound” to be balanced in their reporting.
The Globe and Mail does stand for freedom of speech and a balance of opinions. But there is no “balance” in giving a platform to peddlers of unscientific and irresponsible notions – climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers or those who call the moon landing a hoax. The Globe and Mail, like all responsible media, believes in science and facts.
I have written before about what journalism calls “false balance.” Trying to argue that proven science can be “balanced” by unproven beliefs and conspiracy theories? I don’t think so.
I quoted then a group called Voices for Vaccines who said it well: "focusing on the social controversy of vaccines is tantalizing, but it does not present the public with an accurate understanding of vaccines. Reporting on science is different from reporting on politics, because in science, the facts are reproducible and verifiable. Underplaying the science to emphasize the social controversy can mislead parents about vaccines, leading to decisions that are not based on correct facts and accurate risk-assessment."
The World Health Organization has called the anti-vax movement one of the biggest global health threats of 2019.
The term they use is “vaccine hesitancy,” a term that I would avoid because it soft-pedals a serious threat to our health. If you choose not to vaccinate your child, aren’t you also an anti-vaxxer?