A Washington Post article maligning people who don't get a flu shot shows how the media's reporting on vaccines is public policy advocacy, not journalism.
With the 2018 – 2019 flu season approaching, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is pushing out propaganda to increase demand for the pharmaceutical industry’s influenza vaccine products—and the mainstream media is naturally parroting the misinformation unthinkingly.
Take the Washington Post’s article from earlier this month titled “Flu can be a killer, but some refuse to take a shot”. As one can tell from the title, the message of the article is that people who choose not to be injected with the influenza vaccine are behaving irrationally.
The author even likens it to people who choose not to wear their seat belt while driving. There’s no reason not to just do it!
The underlying assumption being made here is that vaccination is a one-size-fits-all solution that is both safe and effective. We are supposed to believe that this is precisely what science tells us.
But that is unequivocally false.
Neither the CDC nor the media have any interest in properly informing the public about what science actually tells us about the influenza vaccine. Instead, they issue endless propaganda that only serves to misinform, as this article so aptly demonstrates.
Misleading the Public about Annual Flu Deaths
The first thing the Post tells us about the influenza virus is that it is responsible for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths each year.
Last season, the Post says, an “estimated 600,000 people” were “hospitalized because of the flu”.
It adds, “In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu killed about 80,000 Americans in the 2017-2018 season, the most in decades. In other recent years death estimates have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000, according to the CDC.”
The Post repeats the CDC’s claims as though they were uncontroversially credible.
The truth is that the CDC’s estimates are highly controversial precisely because of their highly questionable credibility.
Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology stating that there is “substantial controversy” surrounding the CDC’s estimates.
So why is it that the fact that the CDC’s estimates are controversial is practically never relayed to the public by the mainstream media?
Is it that journalists and editors who work for the corporate media are aware of the great controversy and simply choose to deliberately deceive their audiences by withholding that highly relevant information?
Or is it that they are simply too irresponsible and lazy to do their homework and instead just take whatever the CDC puts out in its public relations messaging as gospel and relay it unthinkingly to their audience?
I don’t see any other possibilities. In the case of this particular author, I think it is the latter. It seems to me that Robyn Correll is totally convinced of her own propaganda.
Another thing you won’t learn from the Washington Post or other mainstream media is that the CDC engages in a deliberate strategy of using fear marketing to increase demand for its influenza vaccines.
Once again, you don’t need to take my word for this. At a workshop for the Institute of Medicine in 2004, the CDC presented a presentation that outlined a “‘Recipe’ for Fostering Public Interest and High Vaccine Demand”, which called explicitly for using fear marketing to do just that. It even bluntly stated that “Health literacy is a growing problem”.
Why? Because people who do their own research and make their own informed choices rather than blindly following the CDC’s recommendations are less likely to get the flu shot.
(And if you’re thinking I must be too liberally interpreting, the specific context in which the CDC identified health literacy as an obstacle to be overcome in the pursuance of its aim of increasing demand for influenza vaccines was the fact that healthy adults widely—and rightly—recognize that they are not at high risk of serious complications from the flu. Read it for yourself and see!)
I won’t get into all the reasons why the CDC’s estimates are not credible because I’ve already written about it in detail in my article “How the CDC Uses Fear Marketing to Increase Demand for Flu Vaccines”. So you can read that for more information. (I also deal specifically with the CDC’s claim about last season’s flu-associated deaths in my post “80,000 Flu Deaths Last Season? Why the CDC’s Claim Is Not Credible.”)
For our purposes here, just understand that while the media relays the CDC’s claims as though solidly grounded in fact, its estimates are rather highly controversial precisely because they rest on numerous dubious assumptions.
To give you a quick idea, though, of the contrast between the actual data and the CDC’s alarming estimates, consider that the average number of deaths each year for which the cause is actually attributed on death certificates to influenza is not tens of thousands or even thousands, but little more than 1,000.
After unquestioningly relaying the CDC’s claims as though factual, the Post expresses puzzlement over why, therefore, fewer than half of Americans choose to get a flu shot—as though this was simply inexplicable and representative of completely irrational behavior!
Of course, just knowing the fact that the CDC’s claims about annual flu deaths are highly controversial already goes a long way toward explaining why people might choose not to get the influenza vaccine.
And there is a whole world of other information out there that the Post doesn’t offer its readers even the slightest glimpse into, but that would entirely dispel any puzzlement over it.
Anyone who bothers to actually research the medical literature for themselves to see what science actually tells us can easily understand how the choice not to get a flu shot can be perfectly rational.
The Washington Post simply has no interest in examining the actual science, much less informing its readers about it.
For starters, note that the assumption Correll and her Post editors are making is that vaccination is a one-size-fits-all solution. Everybody aged six months and up, including pregnant women, should get the flu shot, according to the CDC’s recommendation. Anyone who doesn’t follow this advice is simply making a wrong choice.
That’s what we’re told. But this is simply ignorant and utterly unscientific.
What we know from science, rather, is that the risk-benefit analysis of vaccination must be done for each vaccine and for each individual. And we also know that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why people might choose not to get a flu shot.
The underlying assumption behind the Post’s headline simply illustrates the ignorance of the author and the editorial board and highlights that it is they, not people who choose not to get the vaccine, who are being irrational and unscientific.
Making Unscientific Claims about the Best Way to Prevent the Flu
In expressing puzzlement over why people would choose not to get the flu shot, the Post adds that the vaccine is “the most important way for everyone older than 6 months to protect against serious cases of the ailment, according to the CDC.”
Note that once again, the word of the CDC is parroted as though credible. But what is the scientific basis for this claim?
Nobody at the Washington Post bothers themselves to search for the answer to such questions. They don’t even raise the question.
What the CDC says is rather taken as gospel, and that is that.
But where are the studies showing that getting an annual flu shot is more effective for preventing influenza illness than lifestyle choices to maintain a healthy, functioning immune system?
Where are the studies showing that vaccination is more effective than doing things like eating a nutritious diet, mitigating exposures to environmental toxins, washing hands and otherwise practicing good hygiene, exercising, and maintaining sufficiency of vitamin C and vitamin D?
The answer is that they don’t exist.
The reality is that there is absolutely no scientific basis for the CDC’s assertion that the influenza vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu.
But the media parrot it dogmatically anyway as though it was an unquestionable fact.
What you are witnessing with this kind of propaganda is the pervasiveness of the vaccine religion.
And those who dare to question public vaccine policy, insofar as the mainstream discourse about the practice of vaccination goes, are guilty of heresy.
Hence the total inability of the folks at the Washington Post to comprehend how anyone could come to any conclusion other than that they absolutely need to get a flu shot annually.
Refusing to Address the Real Reasons People Choose Not to Vaccinate
After yet again dogmatically parroting an unevidenced CDC claim as fact, the Post continues by accurately stating that “One of the biggest reasons people give for not getting the flu vaccine is that they don’t think it’s necessary.”
That was precisely the problem the CDC was addressing in its “Recipe” for using fear marketing to increase influenza vaccine demand and its identification of health literacy as a “problem” to be overcome.
Of course, rather than explaining to readers the many factors that must be considered and that can lead individuals make the perfectly rational decision not to get the vaccine, the Post mindlessly waves off any doubts about the wisdom of doing so by citing an “expert” to support its assertion that anyone who thinks they don’t need a flu shot “doesn’t take into account how deadly flu can be to healthy people”.
Which is simply ludicrous.
It’s an obvious non sequitur fallacy. It doesn’t follow from the fact that a healthy person chooses not to get the flu shot that therefore they are unaware that it is possible for the influenza virus to cause death.
I doubt very much indeed that there are any healthy adults who choose not to get the shot who are unaware that the virus can potentially cause death. Who doesn’t know that?! After all, the government as well as the corporate media incessantly remind us all every flu season that influenza infections can be fatal. You can hardly read an article about the flu shot that doesn’t emphasize this. So, clearly, ignorance about this on the part of consumers can hardly explain why so many people choose not to get the shot.
It’s actually a triple fallacy because, in addition to being a non sequitur, it’s a strawman and also simply begs the real question by ignoring the fact that it is true that healthy adults are at low risk of deadly complications from the flu.
Misleading the Public about the Flu Shot’s Effectiveness
The Post’s bewilderment about why low-risk individuals would choose not to get a flu shot also rests on the assumption that the influenza vaccine is actually effective at reducing hospitalizations and deaths from influenza.
Further into the article, the Post hails “how well the vaccine protects against not just getting sick but also hospitalization and death.”
This is a bit ironic coming from an author who vaccinated her own two-year-old son at the start of the last flu season only for him to get a serious flu infection that he, in her words, “struggled to fight off”. (He took on a “rag doll”-like appearance, laying limply and staring blankly, and was treated with antiviral medication.)
So just how well does it protect not just against getting sick, but against hospitalization and death?
It’s an important question that the Post doesn’t bother to answer. Instead, the article just leaves readers with the false impression that science tells us that the vaccine is very effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
Indeed, this assumption is one of the primary rationales for the CDC’s universal influenza vaccine recommendation.
The other primary rationale for CDC policy is the assumption that vaccination prevents transmission of the virus.
But what does science actually tell us about these two fundamental assumptions?
That’s a question the mainstream media never bother to ask. Once again, whatever the CDC says is simply taken as gospel truth. It is dogma.
But there is an answer, and it’s this: What science actually tells us is that studies show “no effect” of influenza vaccination on hospitalization, and that there is “no evidence that vaccines prevent viral transmission or complications.”
That’s what a 2010 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration found after doing a thorough review of existing influenza vaccine studies.
In fact, the Cochrane researchers found that none of the studies included in their meta-analysis were even designed to determine whether the CDC’s fundamental assumptions were true.
They all simply took the CDC’s assumptions for granted and proceeded from there.
Moreover, the body of studies on the safety and effectiveness of the influenza vaccine are largely industry funded, and industry funding has been shown in studies to be associated with findings that are significantly more favorable to the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom line.
The Cochrane review described the quality of the majority of influenza vaccine studies as “low”.
What science tells us is not that it is crazy for people not to get the flu shot, but that the scientific evidence “seem[s] to discourage the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure.”
On the question of viral transmission, a study from earlier this year found that influenza vaccination actually increased transmission of the virus, with vaccinated individuals shedding more than six times as much aerosolized virus in their breath than unvaccinated individuals. (For more on this, read my article “How the CDC Uses Fear and Deception to Sell More Flu Vaccines”.)
A 2012 Cochrane review looking at studies of influenza vaccination in healthy children found that, given the CDC’s recommendation that children as young as six months receive the vaccine and given the egregious lack of safety studies in children under age two, randomized, placebo-controlled safety trials were “urgently required”.
A 2014 Cochrane review looking again at influenza vaccination in healthy adults, but with a specific focus on the CDC’s recommendation that all pregnant women get a flu shot, found that the number of randomized, placebo-controlled trials examining the safety and effectiveness of vaccinating pregnant women was zero.
That review concluded bluntly that the body of studies to date provided “no evidence for the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure.”
Let me repeat that: according to a thorough review of existing influenza vaccine studies by a prestigious international scientific organization, there is “no evidence” to support the CDC’s recommendation that all adults receive an annual flu shot.
Another way to look at that is that there is no evidence that all the billions of dollars spent on influenza vaccination each year actually provides a net economic benefit.
Yet another way to see it is that what science actually tells us about the CDC’s influenza vaccine policy is that it’s wrong!
Now compare that finding with the Washington Post’s underlying message that anyone who doesn’t choose to get the vaccine is behaving irrationally and is ignorant of the science.
If there’s one thing you need to understand, it is this: What the government and media say science says about vaccines and what science actually tells us are two completely different things.
Just this year, the Cochrane group updated its reviews of what science tells us about the influenza vaccine, emphasizing that despite the passage of years since its earlier meta-analyses and their repeated urging for more high quality studies to be done, nothing has really changed and their earlier conclusions still stand.
So how can it be that there is such a great disparity between what the media reports and the actual science?
A big part of the answer is the fact that, by deceiving the public about the science, the media is simply following the CDC’s example.
This was also highlighted by the Cochrane researchers in their 2010 meta-analysis, which went so far in its criticism of public vaccine policy as to accuse the CDC of deliberately misrepresenting the science in order to support their universal influenza vaccination recommendation.
I cover those reviews in much greater detail in my article “Should You Get the Flu Shot Every Year? Don’t Ask the New York Times.” I encourage you to dive into it to get a better idea of just how utterly dishonest the mainstream media are.
But for our purposes here, the key takeaway is that what the Washington Post wants you to believe science says about the flu shot is based not in fact but delusion.
So, is it crazy for people to choose not to get a flu shot?
No, it is not. It is a perfectly rational choice that an individual can make based firmly on scientific grounds.
And the information I’ve just provided that the Post withholds from you is just barely scratching the surface of all the factors that one could take into consideration that would lead one to rationally conclude that getting a flu shot isn’t such a good idea.
There simply is no serious discussion about the critically important issue of vaccines within the mainstream discourse.
Serious discussion about the subject of vaccines in the mainstream media does not exist.
Systematically Lying about Vaccine Safety
After expressing bewilderment that anyone could think that they don’t need a flu shot, the Post adds, “Another reason people don’t get vaccinated is because they are more concerned about the vaccine than they are of the flu itself.”
To support its assumption that the risk-benefit analysis must always and for everyone fall on the side of vaccination, the Post lazily states, “Science, however, supports the safety and necessity of vaccinations.”
But as we have already seen, the claim that science supports the Post’s assertion that it is a “necessity” for everyone to get an annual flu shot is utterly false.
Moreover, the source the Post links to here to support its utterly false statement does nothing to help its case.
On the contrary, the link leads the reader to another Post article that likewise just outright lies to its readers about what science has to say about vaccine safety.
To start with, it’s worth pointing out that the linked article didn’t even discuss the influenza vaccine.
It did mention it in passing, but only in the context of it being among the vaccines on the CDC’s routine childhood vaccine schedule. In fact, the whole purpose of that article was to persuade parents that vaccinating their children according to the CDC’s schedule is safe. And to this end, the author, Lena H. Sun, falsely asserted that “The effectiveness of the vaccine schedule is tested extensively to ensure that the vaccines in the combination don’t interfere with one another and can be easily handled by the infant and the child’s immune system. No new immunization is added to the schedule until it has been evaluated both alone and when given with the other current immunizations.” (Emphasis added.)
That is a bald-faced lie.
The truth is that no vaccine on the CDC’s schedule has been studied for safety when given in combination with every other vaccine on the schedule.
It’s the Post’s burden of proof to provide us with evidence for the existence of such studies. Instructively, the Post provides us with none.
It can’t because there are no such studies.
Once again, you don’t need to take my word for that. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) in a 2013 report on the safety of the CDC’s childhood schedule observed that “existing research has not been designed to test the entire immunization schedule”.
Contrary to the Post’s bald-faced lie, as the IOM acknowledged, “studies designed to examine the long-term effects of the cumulative number of vaccines or other aspects of the immunization schedule have not been conducted.”
So there you have it.
I actually confronted the Post and Lena H. Sun about their recklessly irresponsible lie. I submitted letters requesting the Post to correct the piece. I spoke on the phone with Sun herself to confront her about it. I directed her attention to the IOM report, as well as other studies from the medical literature observing that no such studies have been done. She acknowledged having received my emails and having looked at the IOM report. But rather than admitting she was wrong and correcting her error, she meaninglessly and mindlessly accused me of having taken the relevant quotes from the IOM report “out of context”—and when I pressed her to explain how so, she hung up on me.
The Post refused to print a correction, and to this day, that Post article remains online and continues to recklessly and blatantly lie to parents about the safety of the CDC’s childhood schedule.
And that is the article the more recent Post piece is citing to support its claim that the influenza vaccine is safe and necessary for everyone, including healthy adults, infants as young as six months, and pregnant women!
It’s just another Big Lie.
Refusing to Inform the Public about the Risks of Getting a Flu Shot
What the Washington Post is doing in this recent article is not journalism. It is public policy advocacy.
And the Post is, of course, not alone. The entire mainstream media establishment engages in this kind of propaganda routinely and systematically.
Far from properly informing the public so that individuals will have the knowledge they’ll need to make an informed choice whether or not to vaccinate, the Post is simply starting from the conclusion that everyone should strictly adhere to the CDC’s recommendations and filling in the rest.
This can be done either by mindlessly regurgitating government and industry propaganda or by simply making up whatever “facts” are necessary to lead readers to the predetermined conclusion.
There is no research. There is not even any questioning! There is only dogma.
We’ve already seen this in the above examples. Continuing, the Post attempts to characterize people who choose not to get the flu shot as being grossly misinformed by adding: “And for those worried that flu shots will give them the flu, they don’t, according to the CDC. They’re made of inactivated, or dead, virus and proteins—not live virus—making it impossible to get the flu from the shot.”
There are two important facts here, though, that the Post should but does not disclose. One is that the inactivated influenza vaccines, which are injected, are not the only kind of influenza vaccine. There is also a live virus influenza vaccine.
This is the live attenuated influenza vaccine, which is a spray administered intranasally. And by the logic of the Post’s own argument, since it’s a live virus vaccine, therefore it is theoretically possible that it could cause flu symptoms.
The CDC, of course, claims it doesn’t, but the point is that the Post doesn’t bother to clarify the difference between the flu “shot”, which always refers to inactivated vaccines that are injected, and the live virus vaccines.
(And if you want an example of a live attenuated vaccine that is known to cause the very disease it is intended to prevent, this is precisely why the oral polio vaccine is no longer used in the US. In fact, every case of paralytic polio in the US after 1979 was caused by the vaccine.)
The second important fact the Post doesn’t tell its readers is that studies have shown that getting an annual flu shot can increase your risk of getting the flu.
There are numerous studies finding this, and they explain the possible mechanisms explaining why associations have been found between annual vaccination and increased risk of illness. (I will detail this in a forthcoming article, part three of a series I’ve been working on this year.)
In short, it has to do with the opportunity cost of vaccination and the superiority of naturally acquired immunity.
But there is no need for me to go into the details about this here because for our present purpose the key takeaway is that, while the findings of these studies may be considered controversial, their existence is not!
Once again, it comes down to a question of whether Robyn Correll is simply unaware of this body of research because she simply hasn’t done her homework or is aware of it and simply chooses to pretend that it does not exist.
I’m convinced in her case it’s the former, but either way, the effect of it is that you, dear reader, are simply not supposed to know about these studies. All you are supposed to know is that the CDC says getting a flu shot can’t cause you to get the flu. Nothing else to see here. Move right along. No more questions. Just go line up and get your damned shots!
The mainstream media do not educate the public about the critically important issue of vaccines. Instead, they perform their usual statist function of manufacturing consent for government policies by issuing propaganda intended not to inform, but to deceive people into believing falsehoods so that they will obediently comply with the state’s diktats.
However, the CDC really does have a problem of growing health literacy among the public. People really are doing their own research, thinking for themselves, and drawing their own conclusions—no thanks to the Washington Post and the rest of the incompetent and recklessly irresponsible mainstream media.
It’s well past time the mainstream media started practicing journalism!
This article was originally published at JeremyRHammond.com.