Media Misleads Public on Vaccine-Derived Polio in Ukraine and Mali

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There are several recent reports of polio cases in Ukraine and Mali caused by poliovirus found in the oral polio vaccine (OPV). These reports have created new concerns about the safety of the vaccine as well as the right of people to know about the serious health risks associated with OPV. Concerns include outbreaks of paralytic polio in otherwise polio-free communities.

Regarding the right to information, the question of how polio vaccine and news of vaccine-derived polio infection comes to the forefront. Interestingly, on this very question, we observe that important information is pushed into the background or is sometimes outright omitted in many mainstream media and citizen journalism sources.

Media Not Asking Critical Questions

polio vaccine
Polio Vaccine

One big source of misinformation is the policy of media to interview stakeholders in the vaccination business without asking critical questions. For example, NPR reserved space for Oliver Rosenbauer to defend the spread of vaccine-derived poliovirus in Ukraine and other places by saying that it is something rare and if everyone was immunized, it wouldn’t happen.

NPR failed to ask why put unimmunized communities at risk in the first place by introducing this vaccine-derived virus among them.

This is one kind of yellow journalism. But there are other kinds as well.

Media Defends Vaccine

Take pseudo-academic publications such as The Conversation where the defense of the potentially dangerous vaccine is made by the publication instead of letting it out from the mouth of a stakeholder.

The site created a defensive headline “New polio cases in Ukraine and Mali don’t mean the vaccine is failing” to set the mood for accepting the site’s story without much skepticism. What a critical inquiry would do, instead is, use headlines like “Polio Cases in Ukraine and Mali raise questions about polio vaccine’s safety.” But to speak along these lines, the media needs to free of the covert “Sold-Out” sign.

Support By Editing

Editing out parts of a report is another common strategy to make stories vaccine-friendly as against their apparent risky nature. The polio vaccine has benefited from this strategy and citizen journalism websites like Digital Journal still apply it to perpetuate ignorance among readers.

In the recent case of Ukraine vaccine-derived polio cases, Digital Journal posted the September 2nd AFP story but with omission of some important text – the following paragraph from the original AFP story.

“The Ukrainian outbreak counting two cases in two children from the Zakarpattya region to date is due to circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1,” said WHO spokeswoman Cristiana Salvi.

Polio Vaccine Caused Child Paralysis

Whether in Ukraine or Mali or other countries, where the polio vaccine has caused thousands of cases of paralysis in children, mainstream media never asks the question of accountability and justice for those who are proven to be paralyzed by this vaccine.

Who (could be confused with WHO) would pay for their lifelong disability caused by the polio vaccine?

Ernest Dempsey is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist based in Orlando, FL. He runs a popular blog Word Matters! at http://www.ernestdempsey.com/ and edits the journal and its blog Recovering the Self. Dempsey is a skeptic, vegetarian, and advocate for animal and human rights.