Detailing information with the community about what’s going on around the island is this newspaper’s daily mission, but every once and while it can be a difficult decision as to whether sharing certain information actually serves any public good.
Is it giving them a soap box under West Hawaii Today’s name, or is it the act of informing the general citizenry?
That was a decision West Hawaii Today faced on Thursday when dozens of anti-immunization people attended a public hearing at the West Hawaii Civic Center on proposed changes to the state’s immunization requirements for school attendance.
The hearing was one of several being held throughout the state as the Department of Health collects feedback on its proposed rules.
Those who spoke at the meeting made a variety of arguments about the purported harm caused by vaccines, but many of those arguments have long been countered by public health experts and academic research.
Quickly, the anti-immunization arguments are so mind-numbingly wrong, we don’t want use this space to refute the logic by pointing to science and medical data.
Instead, what we want to talk about is whether the anti-immunization group’s message is even worth sharing. Regardless of how many the people behind it or how loud the voices sharing it, the message it spouts is conspiratorial and wrong, so what’s a newspaper to do?
Give them a platform to share it? Not lend it any credence and ignore it? Or report it like we would most any other public meeting where controversy is involved?
We chose to report it. And we wrote it exactly as it was: A public hearing where a group of ill-informed citizens lobbed out junk science and rhetoric that runs counter to precious medical advancement and science.
But there were a couple of added wrinkles to the decision that made it unique, which should illustrate how poorly we hold the anti-vaccination literature.
The first was that public hearing was for testimony only, so the school district and Hawaii State Department of Health couldn’t engage in discussion. That is to say, they couldn’t refute the nonsense, rather had to sit there and listen. That’s the perfect formula, not for learning, but for grandstanding, and the last thing we wanted was to give a printed platform for wild, unsafe theories.
But the other, more serious component is that public health is at risk.
The discussion about not vaccinating children to contagious, fatal diseases is a dangerous one. It’s serious. In 1955, the year the polio vaccine was introduced, there were 1,043 deaths from the disease. By the early 1960s, there were next to none.
The public controversy on Maunakea, for example, runs culturally deep and impacts many. But, regardless of one’s side, that decision isn’t one that can be literally life and death for one’s peers.
But that’s what’s at stake on the immunization front, unfortunately.
So when a doctor sounds off at the public meeting — as one certainly did — by insinuating that immunization caused Sudden Infant Death Syndrome because, well, data doesn’t say it didn’t, we take it seriously when deciding whether to give such unsound reason any printed voice at all.
“Why don’t they ask ‘When was the last vaccine?’ whenever a SIDS baby comes in? Where’s the research?” the doctor — and by god, we’ve never used “doctor” looser than here — said. “Why don’t we know how many vaccines that baby had, how many at a time, when it dies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?”
In the end, we covered the hearing for exactly what it was. People gathered to share theories long refuted by science and we provided some data points that showed exactly that. That part that we find saddest is that it actually is a discussion happening on this island right now.
We sympathize with the officials at the meeting who had to sit there and listen. As a newspaper that appreciates medical advancements, we hope they take the testimony gathered Thursday and chuck it in the garbage can, where it belongs.