In Argentina, fluff science pieces, parental perceptions of the “natural way” to raise children and a general weariness of industry and government have led to a rise in anti-vaccine movements. It’s time to take the science seriously and start discussing the facts, scientific communicators say.
At a time when anti-vaccine movements are growing and their dangerous consequences have started to attract attention throughout the world, Argentine mass media have not been alien to the immunization debate. At times they have had a positive impact, while at others, not so much.
In the first half of this year alone, the US has already recorded its highest number of measles cases in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Given that the World Health Organization (WHO) has also issued an alert about the resurgence of poliomyelitis in several countries, a well-known Argentinian biologist and science communicator felt obliged to address the vaccination issue in its weekly column in the magazine of La Nación, a leading Argintine newspaper. Diego Golombek himself stated that his articles in the above-mentioned Sunday magazine are characterized by “a sometimes light view, which we expect to be entertaining—though not less rigorous—view on science and its circumstances.” He subsequently explained, “It’s time to get serious about a situation which has caught the media’s attention again and is of utmost importance: the decision, taken by many parents, not to vaccinate their children.”
The spark that lit the flame of controversy was an article published in another magazine, mainly targeted at female readers, called OhLaLá. Under the headline: “Vaccines: yes or no? The author posed a false dilemma, lightly presenting vaccination as optional. A few days later, a new article published in La Nación looked at the topic from the following angle: “an X-ray of the parents that do not have their children vaccinated.”
The superficial manner in which this issue has covered has concerned the Argentine Scientific Journalism Network (RADPC). The network, which consists of 80 specialized journalists from across the country, issued a press release entitled “Vaccines: dangerous misinformation.” In it they declare their “serious concern about some articles which, with the pretext of analyzing alleged ‘controversies’, assume flagrant misinformation on widely accepted public-health matters.”
Anti-vaccine activists claim to seek a return to “natural things;” they think that the perceived “excess” of mandatory vaccines is related to some kind of collusion between the pharmaceutical industry and the State. They also claim that the application of so many vaccines may generate diseases such as autism. Or, perhaps due to all these reasons altogether, the anti-vaccine movements are spreading throughout the world. In view of this gloomy outlook, we should underscore the importance that the public should be made aware of this issue and that, above, all, discussion of this issue deserves a serious, evidenced-based approach it deserves by people who know what they are talking (and writing) about.