Suppressing Scientific Discourse on Vaccines? Self-perceptions of researchers and practitioners


The controversy over vaccines has recently intensified in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with calls from politicians, health professionals, journalists, and citizens to take harsh measures against so-called “anti-vaxxers,” while accusing them of spreading “fake news” and as such, of endangering public health. However, the issue of suppression of vaccine dissenters has rarely been studied from the point of view of those who raise concerns about vaccine safety. The purpose of the present study was to examine the subjective perceptions of professionals (physicians, nurses, researchers) involved with vaccines through practice and/or research and who take a critical view on vaccines, about what they perceive as the suppression of dissent in the field of vaccines, their response to it, and its potential implications on science and medicine. Respondents reported being subjected to a variety of censorship and suppression tactics, including the retraction of papers pointing to vaccine safety problems, negative publicity, difficulty in obtaining research funding, calls for dismissal, summonses to official hearings, suspension of medical licenses, and self-censorship. Respondents also reported on what has been termed a “backfire effect” – a counter-reaction that draws more attention to the opponents’ position. Suppression of dissent impairs scientific discourse and research practice while creating the false impression of scientific consensus.

Consensus science is NOT science.


Vaccines have been considered one of the most controversial areas in the field of medicine almost from the advent of vaccination in the eighteenth century (Bragazzi et al., 2017; Johnston, 2004). The current global COVID-19 pandemic has inflamed the debate over the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The official position ( not the factually true or correct position, just the “official” position) on vaccines, including those newly developed against COVID-19, adopted by health organizations and most physicians, is that vaccines are safe, effective, and essential for reducing infectious diseases and death, while adverse reactions are exceedingly rare and marginal (Andre et al., 2008; Offit, 2010; Remmel, 2021).

Vaccination has always been controversial and remains so to this day. It is controversial because some alleged preventative concoction is being given to healthy persons. In order to allegedly prevent a disease the healthy person may NEVER be subjected to.

While those who question the safety and efficacy of certain vaccines, usually referred as “vaccine opponents” or “anti-vaxxers,“ are portrayed by vaccine advocates as charlatans and conspirators who spread “fake news” and threaten public health (e.g., Arif et al., 2018; Marco-Franco et al., 2021; Jolley & Douglas, 2014; Lewandowsky et al., 2013), vaccine critics argue otherwise. Some scientists, healthcare professionals, and citizens question the benefits attributed to vaccines, claiming that the mortality from infectious disease had already decreased significantly prior to the widespread use of most vaccines (Halvorsen, 2007). Others point to risks and adverse events following vaccination that have led to diseases and even mortality among the vaccinated (e.g., Habakus & Holland, 2012; Palmer, 2019). Some researchers point to methodological deficiencies, biases, and even fraud in clinical trials aimed at testing vaccine safety, driven by economic considerations of pharmaceutical companies (e.g., Cernic, 2018; Doshi, 2013; Gesser-Edelsburg & Shir-Raz, 2016; Gøtzsche, 2020; Jorgensen et al., 2018).

Some researchers have also pointed to tactics of censorship and suppression of scholarly dissenters – researchers and physicians – who raise legitimate scientific concerns in the field of vaccines (Elisha, et al. 2021; Martin, 2015a; Vernon, 2017). Science requires open debate and challengers of the status quo. In practice, however, scientists and physicians who oppose the accepted orthodoxy experience oppression that manifests itself, among other things, in blocking their ability to conduct research and thus contribute to debate by presenting different points of view. Therefore, as some scholars noted, suppression of critical voices in science violates scientific principles, prevents a substantive discussion in a controversial field, and may establish a pattern of unfair conduct that diminishes public confidence in science and medicine (Angell, 2009; Cook et al., 2007; Delborne, 2016; Drazen & Koski, 2000; Friedman, 2002; Martin, 2015a; Vernon, 2017). Given the importance of sustaining an open scientific discussion surrounding the issue of vaccines, the purpose of the present study is to examine the subjective perceptions of researchers and practitioners involved with vaccines, through research or medical practice, in relation to the negative response they encounter due to their positions about certain vaccines, their response to it and its potential implications, expressed in, among other things, the “backfire effect.”

The suppression of vaccine dissent

The suppression of vaccination dissent relates to actions taken against individuals or researchers who raise questions about the efficacy and safety of certain vaccines— actions that deviate from a fair and open debate (Martin, 2015a; Vernon, 2017). Methods of suppressing individuals include spreading of rumors, vilification, harassment, reprimands, deregistration, and dismissal (Martin, 1999a). Methods of suppressing research data include censorship, denying funding and grants and denying access to research materials. Other suppressive tactics include exerting pressure on various organizations and institutions to prevent scientists, doctors and others who raise concerns about vaccine safety and efficacy from presenting their opinion (Martin, 1999b).

Most health professionals assume that vaccine opponents are mostly hysterical parents or members of anti-vaccination groups who promote conspiracy theories and spread “fake news” about vaccines, thereby endangering science and public health (e.g., Jolley & Douglas, 2014; Lewandowsky et al., 2013). However, there are researchers and healthcare professionals who raise scientifically grounded concerns and criticisms about certain vaccines, and in response they experience exclusion, are mis-quoted, denounced as “anti-vaxxers” and are even threatened with job dismissal and/or revocation of their medical license (Vernon, 2017; Elisha et al., 2021).

The issue of suppression of dissent has been recognized in other controversial areas in science, such as AIDS, environmental studies, and fluoridation (e.g., Delborne, 2016; Kuehn, 2004; Martin, 1981, 1991, 1996), but has received scarce attention in the field of vaccination. The very few studies that deal with this are those of Martin (2015a) and Vernon (2017), describing cases of researchers, physicians and civic activists who were personally and professionally attacked, ostracized, and threatened with dismissal due to their critical stands on vaccines. Martin (2015a), who has extensively studied the issue of suppression of dissidents in various fields of science, has noted that the ways in which those who oppose vaccination are attacked have not been seen in any other area related to the safety of medical procedures.

Read in it’s entirety at the opening link.

2 replies on “Suppressing Scientific Discourse on Vaccines? Self-perceptions of researchers and practitioners”

Vaccine response post infection – COVID-19 vaccines update

Natural immunity rules!

The immune system is influenced by the history of infection or vaccination (imprinting) and vaccine response to infection is influenced by such imprinting in how immune response to infection is mounted. This imprinting influence is powerful enough that the previous history of SARS-CoV-2 infection prior to re-infection by the Omicron can influence response to the Omicron.

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