Who Edits Opinions?

I was very pleased to learn a week ago that History of Vaccines was once again certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a reliable source of information on vaccines through their Vaccine Safety Net, part of the Global Vaccine Safety Initiative.

This means that History of Vaccines is one of a few websites that has gone through a process where all of the information we provide you has been vetted by experts to make sure that it is of the highest quality. As the editor, I take great pride in making sure that everything I post comes from evidence-based and science-based sources. If I am posting a news article in the Weekly News Roundup, I make sure to read through the article and see how it was sourced. Sure, I’ll probably make a mistake now and then, but you can be assured that it will be corrected. But what about an opinion? Opinions are subjective by nature, and proving an opinion as correct or incorrect is difficult to do. For example, if someone is of the opinion that vanilla is the finest of all flavors, how can that be disproven? It can’t. But what if someone is of the opinion that vaccines are dangerous?

The Oklahoman recently published an opinion piece by an anesthesiologist. In it, Dr. Steven Lantier makes several statements that are demonstrably false. For example, he states that herd immunity against some of the diseases we vaccinate against in the United States doesn’t exist because, according to him, “we haven’t had outbreaks of these diseases for decades now.” This is false because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists on its website the number of outbreaks and their locations for diseases like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Influenza.

If you live in San Diego, California, you know for a fact that Hepatitis A outbreaks are alive and well in the United States. You can read the after action report for a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in the homeless population in San Diego. That outbreak resulted in 582 cases and 20 deaths. The investigation and response cost San Diego County approximately $12.5 million, according to the report. About 2,500 people were subsequently immunized as a result.

Yet nowhere in Dr. Lantier’s opinion piece was there any hint that someone tried to correct his misinformation. It wouldn’t be until Dr. Thomas Kuhls responded in his own opinion piece that Dr. Lantier’s assertions were challenged on the same platform. (Plenty of scientists, science writers and physicians refuted Dr. Lantier’s opinion on social media.) That led me to think of the job of the editorial board at The Oklahoman. Is there anyone there who looks at these opinion pieces and maybe fact-checks the statements of fact made in them? And are there any guidelines to doing so?

While I search for answers to those questions, I’d like to make it abundantly clear that we welcome all your comments here on History of Vaccines, even if you are critical of vaccine science. A healthy and open debate is good for everyone, so long as it is civil, respectful, and fact-based.

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen