Forty minutes of discussion in consultation with a patient loaded with a dossier of an alleged investigation by the University of Almería that stated that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines contained graphene are forty minutes lost. “In these difficult cases, we can’t do anything,” admits doctor Manuel Menduiña, an internist at the Virgen de las Nieves Hospital in Granada. The University of Almería distanced itself from the viralized ‘Campra report’, named after its author’s last name, which even concluded that microscopy did not provide “conclusive evidence”. However, the presence of graphene is the third most widespread hoax about vaccines in the last year.
Thus it follows from first study on health hoaxes focused on vaccines carried out by Doctoralia, the #SaludsinBulos Institute and the Spanish Association of Vaccinology (AEV), whose results have been presented this week. Next to graphenewhich occupies the third place in the classification of the hoaxes that most reach the mobile phones of the people surveyed, the DNA modification using messenger RNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and using these punctures to implant microchips to the public are the rumors that fake news about vaccines focuses on the most.
Another of the conclusions of this study, carried out among 1,176 people in March 2022, is that users have the feeling that the main channel for disseminating hoaxes about vaccines is the messaging application WhatsApp -as another recent study on the subject led by Ramón Salaverría also detected-, followed by the media and the social network Facebook.
When you meet a fake new (fake news) about health or about vaccines, the respondents explained that they mainly use the internet to try to contrast it and verify its veracity. In this sense, while one in three (29%) people surveyed in this study said they see a specialist to resolve the doubts generated by misinformation, six out of ten (56%) did the same while browsing the internet. Of the third who did seek answers to their questions about vaccines from a professional, 69% say that they left the consultation with the necessary clarifications.
In doctor Menduiña, one of the professionals who have presented the results of this work, considers it “key” that patients have resolved their doubts -mainly about the safety and efficacy of vaccines- with health personnel. That the majority of queries (55%) focused on the safety of serums “shows that the anti-vaccine story has created doubts in a part of the population, although they have not achieved their objective [en España] as it has happened in other countries”.
World Health Organization (OMS) already listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. Luis Ignacio Martínez Alcorta, spokesperson for innovation at the AEV, recalls that the anti-vaccine movements “are as old as the start of vaccination campaigns. They began to emerge in the mid-nineteenth century, when vaccination was part of regularized and compulsory health care. The freedom of the individual by these groups with respect to the good of the community was the revulsive in which they tried to focus that vaccination was not necessary and they opposed it “.
The genesis of these movements occurred “in Anglo-Saxon countries and, from the middle of the 20th century, in France above all; and from 1990 it emerged in Spain,” adds Martínez Alcorta. “Even the vaccination of the smallpoxwhich since it was eradicated is estimated to have saved between 150 and 200 million lives, has found opposition movements,” he highlights.
The anti-vaccine groups are “heterogeneous” that “many times arise as an effect of polarization”
The AEV expert states that anti-vaccine groups are “heterogeneous” that “many times arise as polarization effect or political influence of certain world leaders. Is famous [el expresidente de EE UU] Donald Trump, [el presidente de Brasil] Jair Bolsonaro or bots when it comes to generating instability”. Other times the interests are economic, adds Alcorta, while citing the American osteopath and businessman Joseph Mercola, inspected and warned by the US drug regulator (FDA, for its acronym in English) for advertising their own line of vitamins as treatments for covid-19.
The vaccination campaign against covid initially achieved great coverage, reaching 82% of the total population with the first two doses. Nevertheless, the penetration of the third doses has not been such and has stagnated at 52%. A percentage similar to that of pediatric vaccination: 54% of boys and girls aged 5 to 11 years have the first dose and 42% both. The pediatrician and vice president of the AEV, Fernando Moraga Llop, another of the speakers at the presentation of this study, referred to these data.
In his opinion, the initial scientific debate regarding the vaccination against the coronavirus of the little ones, the Christmas holidays -which coincided with the start of the children’s immunization campaign- and that many were infected with omicron were the reasons for the low percentage of pediatric vaccination against covid. The same does not happen with the rest of the vaccines included in the childhood vaccination schedule: 95% of children under one year of age scrupulously comply with medical recommendations and the remaining five percent, “only between 1.5% and 3% are children of parents who have expressed a desire not to vaccinate“, emphasizes Moraga-Llop.
Returning to pediatric covid vaccines, the vice president of the AEV confesses that he sees it “difficult” for the percentage of vaccinated children to increase due to the current “underestimation of the pandemic”, although he is “quite” confident that with the arrival in the coming months of vaccines updated to the new variants and new recombinant formulas, or the one developed by the Spanish pharmaceutical company Hipra, which is already being evaluated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), “could be increased” both the third doses for the adult population as the pediatric vaccination.
Dr. Alcorta points out another factor that could help reduce the rejection of covid vaccines in the future. “It is proven by several scientific studies that when a new medication is implemented, the information that circulates regarding its safety is much greater two years after its commercialization. Then it goes down a lot. This is what has happened with covid vaccines. This is pure opportunism. Groups that seek to create distrust in the population do so at the expense of generating fear by talking about scary topics such as cancer or infertility. From now on, I think that the hoaxes and the information about the adverse effects, which we know much better, will go down,” she explains.
To combat misinformation, the head of Paediatrics at the General University Hospital of Villalba, Roi Piñero, who also took part in the colloquium, proposes “tougher sanctions” for all health workers who spread disinformation about vaccines “just as we would accept sanctions if we health workers said nonsense like that children should smoke and drink alcohol from the age of six to grow up healthier. If I said that, I would have a sanction. But a ‘doctor for the truth’ can say whatever he wants without absolutely anything happening”.
In this sense, Moraga-Llop speaks of “attacks against public health” against which the public administrations would have to act with “sanctions”, just as some medical colleges are already doing. Likewise, and to strengthen confidence in vaccines, the pediatrician emphasizes the need to “harmonize” the vaccination schedules of each Autonomous Community to end the existing inequity with some vaccines that some territories subsidize and others do not -as is the case of the vaccine against meningitis or the human papilloma virus. “What is a common calendar should be a single maximum calendar”sentence.