In November 2012, the Welsh city of Swansea was hit by an unusually destructive measles outbreak. Sparked by a handful of children who contracted the virus after returning from a summer camp, the epidemic was reported to infect at least 1,202 people in six months and kill a 25-year-old man.
But the seeds of Swansea's measles outbreak had been sown 16 years earlier. In July 1997, a local Swansea newspaper, the Evening of South Wales, led the first article in a campaign questioning the safety of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. In areas where the Post night was distributed, the number of people who received the MMR vaccine increased from 91% before the campaign to 77.4% thereafter. Although it was impossible to establish a decisive link, one thing was certain: in November 2012, the number of Swansea youth who had no protection against measles was dangerously high.
"It was common knowledge that Swansea was sitting on this time bomb, and that is precisely the year she took off," says Sebastian Funk, associate professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Twenty years after the Post nightThe influence of local newspapers has faded, but a steady stream of new players has come in to fill the void left by misinformation, and skepticism about vaccines seems to be escalating.
Type "vaccine" into the Facebook search bar and you will be directed to a plethora of anti-vaccine groups, each with its dedicated community of so-called anti-vaxxers. There are first and foremost groups that are absolutely right to want to make money: Rage Against Vaccines (35,000 "likes"), stop compulsory vaccination (127,000 " I "like") and "Learn the Risk" (80,000 "I like"). After answering three questions about their skepticism about the vaccine, followers are invited to an echo room where parents share tips to avoid vaccinating their children and scornful memories of "pro-vaxxers".
Other groups expose their anti-vaccine position more subtly. The National Vaccine Information Center (212,570 mentions J & # 39; likes) is a non-profit American organization with a Facebook page dedicated to sharing articles warning about the adverse effects of vaccines on the health. In the "Related Pages" sidebar, Facebook is pointing its subscribers to a page called Dr. Tenpenny on Vaccines and News (230,000 mentions I'd like), where a self-described holistic health specialist implies that vaccines are dangerous, based on erroneous research and have nothing to do. do with the eradication of the disease.
On Amazon Prime Video, a search for "vaccine" leads users to Vaxxed: From hiding to disaster – a pseudoscientific documentary directed by Andrew Wakefield, a former physician who, in 1998, published a fraudulent and largely debunked document claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Since being struck off the British medical register, Wakefield has embarked on a second career as a "truther" anti-vocal vaccine. The bar "Customers also watched" from Amazon directs Vaxxed viewers to other pseudoscientific films bearing names such as Injection of aluminum, Vaccinations against smallpox and anthrax and mark of the beast and Man-made epidemic. A campaign to make a sequel, called Vaxxed II: The truth of the people has already raised $ 86,500 (£ 66,000) on the Indiegogo crowdfunding site.
"I hear it all over the world – this worry about all the evidence," says Heidi Larson, an anthropologist and co-founder of The Vaccine Confidence Project – a group that monitors public confidence in vaccination at home. worldwide. "Now, things are not in a panic situation, even if that should be the case. But it is a kind of slow burn, a kind of growing pride. "
Vaccine skepticism is worsening and effects may already be starting to show. In the first ten months of 2018, 54,000 cases of measles were confirmed in Europe, double the total recorded in 2017 and the highest level in 20 years, according to the World Health Organization. Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of children who received the first dose of a measles vaccine decreased in nine EU Member States. In 2017, eight Member States of the European Union (including the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Greece) did not have a fairly high rate first. vaccination rate per dose to ensure herd immunity. Of the 17 states with sufficiently high vaccination rates, eight also have reduced vaccine uptake.
The factors behind skepticism about immunization are complex, says Larson. Parents, for example, may feel overwhelmed by information or poorly informed about available vaccination options. But some anti-vaxxers are also part of a larger movement of people who are deliberately fleeing the scientific consensus in favor of a conspiratorial worldview. "There is a very strong and I think, the growing movement of this almost as an identity thing," says Larson. On Twitter and Facebook, fitness guru Ben Greenfield, founder of the supplement company Kion, often points his followers to anti-vaxxer material. On Facebook pages, vaccine skeptics easily exchange alternative medicine tips and conspiracy theories.
For Larson, the anti-vaxxer movement is another sign that something is seriously broken when it comes to public trust in science. "I think we need clear, solid evidence and readiness, but that will not solve the problem. We waited too long. It's about broken relationships. This is a deep distrust. These are alternative beliefs stronger than their belief in the vaccine. And the division between those who believe in science and those who are skeptical is even more accentuated by Russian robots pushing anti-vaxx content on social media.
So, how can we address this growing mistrust? According to Larson, it is essential to continue to build the trust of the majority of people who still trust vaccines. As Funk notes, vaccination rates in Europe are on the whole close to their historic highs – and despite recent blips, they have been steadily increasing since the 1990s. "What really matters is what it's all about. 39, we call pockets of susceptibility, "he says. "You can have high coverage nationwide, but if you have population groups or an age group in which the coverage is low, you can still have significant outbreaks even if the overall level vaccination is comparatively high. "
Facebook begins to whisper that it is about to take the anti-vaccine content more seriously. In a statement provided to WIRED, the social media company said, "We found that anti-vaxx content was not distributed enough [news feeds] or on the platform in general, but it can surface in groups and in search, so we explore other measures to best fight against the problem. "However, Pinterest has gone much further – it has become impossible for people to search for the content of a vaccine on its platform altogether.
But it is also important to keep an eye on the next source of misinformation. As part of the Vaccine Confidence Project, Larson contributed to the development of the Vaccine Confidence Index, a tool that monitors public confidence in vaccination in the hope of detecting early warning signs. runners if confidence in a vaccine dives into a given area. For Larson and his colleagues, it is essential to prevent more people from falling into the trap of vaccine skepticism to help us get closer to the herd's level of immunity. "We need to build the trust of the majority of the population who continue to be vaccinated and continue to believe that it is the right thing to do."
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