The publications of Correct!v on payments of pharmaceutical companies to German doctors in 2016 were impressive and a classical example of critical and investigative journalism. The new publications on the subject of vaccination fall far short of those standards, not only due to the funding of this research provided by the Gates-Foundation, which is one of the global players in the pro-vaccine-movement worldwide. The foundation itself is financed by the Gates-Trust that has capital investment in vaccine-producing companies "As of 2014, the BMGF Trust had investments in [...] chemical and pharmaceutical corporations BASF, Dow Chemicals, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Pfizer" (Global Justice 2017). Correct!v's claim that the foundation did not exert influence on the content of the articles is a proof of either naiveté or of ignorance of the basic principles of manipulation and exercise of influence (Rule of reciprocity - Cialdini 2014).

In addition, the articles contain lots of inaccuracies and mistakes:

  • The introduction of the German Correct!v site mentions the toddler who died during the measles-outbreak in Berlin 2015 - should it not be mentioned by critical journalism that this child suffered from a lifethreatening heart-disease before contracting the measles and therefore can hardly serve as an example for the perilousness of this disease? Just for the sake of completeness of information, that is claimed to be crucial for Correct!v?

  • The same text continues: "Vaccination-rates in Silicon Valley are below the minimum." What minimum? Who defines a scientifically based minimum for vaccination-rates? Isn't this an assertion a bit to flat for Correct!v, stating to make the background of each claim as transparent as possible for the readers? (Correct!v Redaktionsstatut).

  • The article on measles on the German site asserts: "Nevertheless in 2015, more than 200.000 people contracted measles. More than one-third of them died." A reference for this dramatic claim is not delivered - even the WHO assumes a death-toll of measles not exceeding ten percent - under worst circumstances: "In populations with high levels of malnutrition and a lack of adequate health care, up to 10% of measles cases result in death." (WHO 2016) - in western countries, the lethality of measles is less than one per mill (Rabe 2015).

  • The text continues: "For effective protection, a second dose of [measles] vaccine is a must". This post-factual claim does not become more true by repeating it like a mantra (like for example the German commission for vaccine-recommandation, the STIKO does). Fact is according to a publication by the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) that antibodies can be detected in 93% of the children after one dose, in 97% after two doses (CDC/MMWR 2015). Clinical protection against the disease occurs in 92% after one dose, in 94% of the vaccinated children after two doses (Uzicanin 2011) - an increase of protection of about 2% means an increase of the sale of measles-vaccine of 100%...

  • Above all, the article complains about the skeptical attitude many people have towards vaccination, citing the Vaccine Confidence Project: "[...] with 41% of respondents in France [...] reporting that they disagree that vaccines are safe […]. This is compared to a global average of 12%" (Vaccine Confidence Project 2016). So far so good, but would it not be the task of critical journalism not to stop here moaning but investigating the background of and the reasons for this attitude? Maybe even pointing to the uselessness of talking (and asking) about "vaccination" or "vaccines" in general - who would ask people if "surgery" in general is safe or useful, seriously...

  • The following reproach: "Nowadays anti-vaccinationists distrust official institutions, pharmacologists and even scientists" in a publication of Correct!v makes one either laugh - or cry: is this attitude, the distrust against "official institutions" not the self-conception of critical journalism?

  • It is of breathtaking irony that a network of critical journalists criticizes people scrutinizing positions of governmental commissions and pharmaceutic companies - just those people being the claimed target group of Correct!v "informed citizens demanding for clearing up" (Correct!v Redaktionsstatut)

On the website of Correct!v's Spanish partner-organisation, Civio, the situation is not better:

  • The headline of the article "Successes" "Vaccine have helped to eradicate some diseases..." simply is wrong: up to now, only one disease - the smallpox - have been eradicated and the protagonists of this eradication themselves warned early after this success: "Despite the fact that there has been only one success in eradicating a disease, many experts speculate that a wide variety of diseases and conditions should be susceptible to eradication given sufficient resources, effort, and cooperation. However, this is precisely the wrong lesson to be learned from the smallpox campaign. There were many factors that uniquely favored smallpox eradication" (Henderson 2002).

  • Another "Success" of vaccination is presented in the same article as an "achievement" of the DTP-vaccine: a chart showing the impressive reduction of pertussis-cases worldwide and thus obscuring the actual truth which shows a dramatic increase of pertussis in western countries: in 2012 the CDC documented the highest number of cases since 1955  - "Pertussis continues to be the most poorly controlled bacterial vaccine-preventable disease in this country, despite high rates of DTaP coverage."  (CDC as cited in Tartof 2013)

  • The article "Holes in the shield" claims a herd-immunity for polio-vaccination in Spain - it is a scientific fact that the IPV (the vaccination against polio with a killed virus) does not grant any herd-immunity - the German Robert Koch Institute states: "People vaccinated with IPV can nevertheless get infected with the poliovirus and excrete and spread them unnoticedly" (RKI 2015) (nevertheless those people are protected against the disease polio - a subtle, but crucial differentiation). Furthermore the article states a herd-immunity for the DTP-vaccine, proving once more the author's lack of knowledge, as an antitoxic vaccine cannot provide direct herd-immunity, all the more as there is no transmission of p.e. tetanus between human beings. And for pertussis even the CDC does not assume a relevant herd-immunity: Since pertussis spreads so easily, vaccine protection decreases over time, and acellular pertussis vaccines may not prevent colonization (carrying the bacteria in your body without getting sick) or spread of the bacteria, we can't rely on herd immunity to protect people from pertussis.“ (CDC 2015)

This listing could go on for a long, long time - it becomes apparent that the initial suspicion fed by the funding of this research project turns out to be all too true: this mixture of of journalistic inaccuracies, false claims and scientific nonsense is of no value at all in a discussion on a theme so complex as vaccination.

Vaccination holds a lot of opportunities for real critical journalism, though:

  • the influence of pharmaceutical corporations on governmental recommandations

  • their influence even on supranational institution like the EMA oder the WHO

  • the diversity of national recommandations of vaccination showing on its own that there is no scientific consensus on what is necessary or at least reasonable to vaccinate

  • ...

This reseach provides evidence that the attempt to perform a critical journalistic investigation on a highly controversial topic like vaccination and allow the funding of this reseach by a foundation that is with its position and behaviour part of the game, part of the problem is doomed to fail - Correct!v and its partners fall far short of their own journalistic, ethical and moral standards.

So, if in the age of fake news, alternative facts and governmental wars against the media and the press this is critical and investigative journalism: who will investigate the work of Correct!v, Civio et al.?

 

Sources

CDC. MMWR April 17, 2015 / 64(14);373-376. Abruf 19.03.2017

CDC. Pertussis FAQs. 2015.

Cialdini, R. Handbuch Manipulation. 2014. Abruf 19.03.2017

Correct!v. Warum wir über Impfungen berichten. Abruf 19.03.2017

Correct!v. Redaktionsstatut. Abruf 19.03.2017

Global Justice: Gated Development - Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? Abruf 19.03.2017

Henderson DA. JAMA. 1999;281:2127–2137.

Hirte M. Missstände bei der Europäischen Arzneimittelbehörde EMA. Abruf 19.03.2017

Leitlinienwatch 2016a. Interessenkonflikte bei Impfempfehlungen. Abruf 19.03.2017

Leitlinienwatch 2016b. Empfehlungen der Ständigen Impfkommission. Abruf 19.03.2017

Rabe S. (2017) Keuchhusten - America first, Germany next? Abruf 19.03.2017

Rabe S. (2015) Masern - Die Erkrankung. Abruf 20.03.2017

RKI. Ratgeber Pertussis. 2014 Abruf 19.03.2017

RKI. FAQs zu Poliomyelitis. Stand 10.09.2015. Abruf 19.03.2017

Tartof SY. PEDIATRICS Volume 131, Number 4, April 2013 Abruf 19.03.2017

Uzicanin A.  J Infect Dis. (2011) 204 (suppl 1): S133-S149. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jir102 Abruf 19.03.2017

Vaccine Confidence Project 2016. Abruf 20.03.2017

WHO. Factsheet Measles. 2016. Abruf 19.03.2017

Zuck R. MedR 2017, S. 85 - 91