Apparently, the US is starting to wake up to the fact that the anti-vax movement, with its dependence on fake-science and scare tactics, is resulting in the unnecessary deaths of children.
There is a growing measles outbreak in the United States, and the role of powerful tech companies like YouTube and Facebook in spreading vaccine misinformation is under heavy scrutiny.
According to Wired, a recent search for "vaccine" on Amazon yielded a search page dominated by anti-vaccination content. Of the 18 books and movies listed on the search page, 15 contained anti-vaccination content. The first listing was a sponsored post — that is, an ad for which Amazon was paid — for the book "Vaccines on Trial: Truth and Consequences of Mandatory Shots" by Pierre St. Clair, which Amazon was also offering for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Among the search results were books and movies that made their anti-vaccination stance clear in their titles, like the movies "We Don't Vaccinate!" and "Shoot 'Em Up: The Truth About Vaccines."
There were also books which new parents could mistake for something offering neutral information accepted by the public health community, like "Miller's Review of Critical Vaccine Studies: 400 Important Scientific Papers Summarized for Parents and Researchers" and "The Vaccine-Friendly Plan: Dr. Paul's Safe and Effective Approach to Immunity and Health — from Pregnancy Through Your Child's Teen Years," both of which featured Amazon's "Best Seller" tag.
Amazon also offers its Prime members several anti-vaccination movies for free viewing on Prime Video, like "VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe," which was dropped from the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016 following a public outcry.
The guy behind the flick was Andrew Wakefield, who published a 1998 study that became the basis for the anti-vaccination movement. The study claimed that measels vaccinations caused autism in children. The study used fudged data and appeared to be the basis of a business that Wakefield was hoping to set up. The study was later retracted, and Wakefield was stripped of his medical licence.
Professor of paediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a prominent proponent of vaccination, Paul Offit accused Amazon of taking dirty money.
“What Amazon is willing to do is, for a price, put bad information out there. They should be held accountable. ... There aren't two sides to the science. Vaccines don't cause autism, diabetes, MS, or any of the other chronic disorders anti-vaccination proponents claim."
Earlier this month, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, sent an open letter to Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, expressing concern that the companies are "surfacing and recommending" anti-vaccination content that has caused "declining vaccination rates which could reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases."
"The algorithms which power social media platforms, as well as Amazon's recommendations, are not designed to distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information, and as a result, harmful anti-vaccine messages have been able to thrive and spread," Schiff said in a statement to CNN Business.
"Every online platform, including Amazon, must act responsibly and ensure that they do not contribute to this growing public health catastrophe."
A Facebook spokesperson said it has "taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do".
"We're currently working with outside experts on additional changes that we'll be announcing soon", the spokesperson said.