Last month a couple in Turin, Italy, almost lost their 7-year-old daughter to tetanus. Questioned as to why they hadn’t had her vaccinated against the disease, they said that they were blameless: information they’d encountered in the media had convinced them it would do more harm than good.
I live in Italy, so I know it’s not the newspapers and TV that are at fault, but rather social media and the internet. One blog in particular has been called Europe’s main source of fake news: that of Beppe Grillo, stand-up comedian turned political leader. The movement he created (the ‘5 Star Movement’) now runs both Turin and Rome, and if there were a general election tomorrow would probably win the most parliamentary seats. It has mostly been built up online on the basis of a truly populist progamme, principally against corruption and the ‘casta’ (political establishment). Although it resembles the left-wing party Podemos in Spain, it’s by no means progressive, particularly in relation to immigration.
One of Grillo’s pet bugbears is ‘big pharma’, a euphemism for those transnational pharmaceutical companies which profit from the sale of vaccines. The fake link between the MMR vaccine and autism was first ‘discovered’ by then medical researcher (now disgraced former medical researcher and Trump cheerleader) Andrew Wakefield in 1998. ‘Anti-vaxx’ sentiment has been particularly influential in Italy, with compulsory immunisation programmes leading to large numbers of parents who have read online or been convinced by friends that vaccines cause disease withdrawing their children from school altogether. This presents a huge problem for society – not only are such parents putting their own offspring at risk of illness and death, they also jeopardise the ‘herd effect’ – when a certain percentage of a population has been vaccinated, the chain of infection is broken and the risk of any member of that group becoming infected is vastly reduced.
So far our 8-month-old daughter has had two sets of vaccinations, including tetanus, polio, and meningitus. We’re due to take her again on Dec 28th, but we’ve decided we just can’t go through with it this time. Why? Well, it’s very simple: we’ll be away on that date, visiting family in the UK for Christmas. We’re going to postpone her appointment until we get back the following week.
We’re not fucking stupid.