In the US, Canada and the rest of the English-speaking world, questioning vaccine safety is a taboo subject, one the mainstream press fears to touch, let alone to debate. Not so in France, which enshrined the right to freedom of thought in its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 and, unlike the Anglosphere, still means it.
“Should we have doubts about vaccines?” asked a popular radio program last month, marking European Immunization Week. The program, which ran on France Inter, a major public channel that is part of Radio France, introduced the subject by acknowledging the “doubts and concerns about the usefulness of vaccines” that have led the French to have “less and less confidence in vaccines.” France Inter then held a no-holds-barred debate between a controversial proponent of increased vaccine use, Professor François Bricaire of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, and an unspoken proponent of the need for safer vaccines, Michèle Rivasi, Member of the European Parliament.
Another example of balanced media coverage comes from Le Journal des Femmes (The Woman’s Magazine), France’s leading woman’s magazine whose website, with 6.4 million unique visitors per month, recently became the country’s most popular women’s website. In an article entitled “Vaccinations: Are physicians reticent?” Le Journal des Femmes delved into the conflicted views of French physicians. In principle, 97% of GPs surveyed were in favor of vaccination, according to a March report by France’s Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics. Yet when push came to shove, the same survey “also highlights a continuing strong reserve: a quarter of physicians surveyed express ‘doubts about the serious risks associated with vaccines as well as their usefulness.’ Moreover, only 43% of physicians admit to being ‘at ease to explain the role of adjuvants for their patients.’ … Another sensitive issue for physicians: the vaccine against HPV and recent discussions of its possible side effects. Only 45% of the sample of general practitioners recommend it to girls 11 to 14 years.”
A third example comes from Le Figaro, France’s second largest daily. After the French press last month reported that two infants died and hundreds had been injured after receiving rotavirus vaccines, Figaro examined the various issues at play, including conflict of interest — government regulators have had pharmaceutical industry ties — and the wisdom of having these vaccines recommended by public health authorities.
Such examples of open debate and examination of both sides of the vaccine issue — something rarely if ever seen in the major English-speaking media — abound in France, where the media routinely invites scientists, physicians and advocates to offer their views. “The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely,” proclaimed France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Vive la France libre! May the Anglosphere one day become free, too!