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Sauvayre R. (sumitted book), What science does to beliefs: Understanding the fear of the measles and covid-19 vaccines


Abstract

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked vaccine refusal as one of the three greatest global public health emergencies. The WHO noted a steady drop in measles vaccination coverage and an upsurge in epidemics around the world. At the same time, anti-vaccine websites are proliferating and attracting many followers using misinformation and conspiracy theories. These "anti-vaxxers", from the parent to the activist, share at least one characteristic: fear of the adverse effects of vaccines. More specifically, they are afraid of seeing their children develop a form of autism following inoculation via a vaccine. This belief, now tenacious, nevertheless has a scientific origin which explains to what extent it has spread throughout the world and has paved the way for the current distrust of vaccines among a section of the population. Therefore, this book aims to trace the chain of events that led to this global public health disaster to better understand the current pandemic. Each chapter will be structured around a perspective, a vision of the world, carried by 1) the researcher who created this scary false belief; 2) the learned societies which were slow to decide on the validity of this research work; 3) the media who have greatly participated in the dissemination of the scary thesis; 4) citizens who have taken fright to the point of dropping vaccination uptake and discriminating on social networks of misinformation. We will see how a British gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, following the publication of an article in the famous journal The Lancet, was at the origin of this scientific belief and thus spread a worldwide fear vis-à-vis the vaccine against measles. Finally, we will draw a parallel with the disinformation that is current on Covid-19 (chloroquine) and the fear of the AstraZeneca vaccine in order to show how history has repeated itself in the very recent past. In short, we will see how science – aided by the media and social networks – can produce and fuel false beliefs.