Social media companies have begun cracking down on anti-vaccine chatter between users of social media in response to a coordinated pro-vaccine campaign from health officials across the country.
Last month, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine wrote a letter to Congress calling for social media censorship of “misinformation” on vaccine dangers. The move appears timely as top social media websites have since issued statements indicating they will begin cracking down on “anti-vax” information.
In the letter, Levine attempted to shame social media companies for not doing more to promote vaccines.
“It is unconscionable to me that information and opinion influencers, such as social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram, are not leaders in ensuring that credible, scientifically-based information and resources are prioritized as part of their user experience algorithms. Misinformation and misleading information contribute to the modern-day assault on science and evidence,” he wrote.
But Health Choice Vermont, a local group dedicated to protecting choice and informed consent for parents and all Vermonters, isn’t impressed by the commissioner’s actions. The group views the letter as a call for censorship against anyone critical of an unregulated or non-transparent vaccine industry.
“Members of Congress and others are calling for massive internet censorship to prevent open discourse on vaccine risk, need for informed consent and why ‘choice’ is essential,” the group said in a statement. “As a result, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and others are restricting or blocking vaccine choice content and posting warning messages to clamp down on so-called ‘vaccine misinformation.’ Amazon has already removed vaccine films from its Prime Video streaming service including Vaxxed and Trace Amounts, and has now started removing books about alternative autism treatments.”
This month Facebook issued a statement indicating the company will curtail alternative views on vaccines. On Friday, Instagram announced it will block specific hashtags such as “#vaccinescauseautism, #vaccinesarepoison and #vaccinescauseharm,” according to a DailyMail.com report.
Levine told True North last week that his office is working on a response to Health Choice Vermont.
Ben Truman, public health communication officer at the Health Department, told True North on Tuesday that state health leaders aren’t trying to squelch inquiry about vaccines.
“Dr. Levine’s letter can speak for itself. Having questions about vaccinations is completely reasonable,” he said. “As a physician and the state’s lead for promoting and protecting the health of Vermonters, Dr. Levine encourages concerned parents and caregivers to ask questions — to talk with their child’s pediatrician and get the scientific and evidence-based information they need to make informed decisions.”
Levine joins U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has made similar calls for censorship on the issue of vaccines.
Social media may be one of the last venues for open dialogue about vaccine safety, as the pharmaceutical industry is the largest financier of mainstream media news sources. Drug giants that frequently advertise on cable news networks and other media outlets spend about $5.2 billion dollars a year on advertising. As a result, only stories that promote vaccines as safe and effective tend to appear in mainstream media outlets.
CBS News had no problem cheering the removal of documentary films that question the safety of vaccines.
“Every major medical body and federal office agrees: vaccines are safe and effective,” the CBS story states. It goes on to explain how Amazon is pulling down documentary films such as “The Greater Good,” which challenges the notion that all vaccines are safe.
Adverse reactions to vaccines are documented in the United States. The Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System is averaging about a quarter billion dollars paid out per year for vaccine-induced damages over the past four years. The amount paid out is more than $4 billion over the past three decades. The money comes from purchasers of the vaccines, not the vaccine companies, which have federal liability protection since 1986.
The amounts could be even higher. According to a study commissioned by the federal government, Harvard University has determined that VAERS payouts represent less than 1 percent of actual damages from vaccinations.
“Adverse events from drugs and vaccines are common, but underreported,” the study states. “… Likewise, fewer than 1 percent of vaccine adverse events are reported. Low reporting rates preclude or slow the identification of ‘problem’ drugs and vaccines that endanger public health. New surveillance methods for drug and vaccine adverse effects are needed.”
The vaccine controversy in Vermont was reignited last fall when Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and challenger Republican Don Turner disagreed over the safety status of vaccines during a debate.
“Like many, I do sometimes question when government agencies are a bit too infused with corporate influence with respect to some of the outcomes and decisions they make,” Zuckerman said in one of the debates.
This legislative session lawmakers have introduced S.238, which takes away the religious exemption for vaccinations, leaving parents no choice but to pull kids out of school if they want to avoid vaccines. That bill and five others — some of them supporting choice — have been stuck on the wall of the House Healthcare Committee this session.