Books and T-shirts pushing anti-vaccination messages abound on retail sites

Business

As countries around the globe prepare to inoculate their citizens against the coronavirus, a search for “vaccine” on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and eBay finds an array of books and T-shirts casting doubt on the science behind vaccines.

A search for “vaccine” on Amazon.com yielded results leading with two books promoting anti-vaccination theories and an anti-vaccination T-shirt. Searches on eBay and Barnes & Noble produced similar results.

A book authored by Thomas Cowan, a physician who contends 5G wireless technology is behind the ongoing pandemic, tops the results on Barnes & Noble’s site. Meanwhile, on Amazon, an anti-vaccination book by pediatrician Paul Thomas tops the site’s vaccinations category. A paperback promoting a vaccine-free childhood is the first result to pop up on eBay.

First reported by Bloomberg News, the search results play into worries among medical experts that anti-vaccination views might encourage people to decline shots to protect them against COVID-19, which has killed nearly 288,000 Americans. The World Health Organization listed “vaccine hesitancy” among the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.

A poll conducted by Ipsos in October of 18,000 adults from 15 countries found that 27% said they would refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Resistance to vaccines is nothing new and has been on the rise for decades, aided by celebrities and politicians, such as Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Before entering the White House, President Donald Trump repeatedly asserted an unproven connection between childhood vaccinations and autism.

Amazon does not say how its search algorithm works other than that it’s supposed to push relevant results up.

“Similar to other stores that sell books, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints,” an Amazon spokesperson stated in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. “Our shopping and discovery tools are not designed to generate results oriented to a specific point of view, and we are always listening to customer feedback.”

Ebay on Thursday said it had add a link to information on vaccine safety on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to its search functionality, so that a banner now pops up offering more information with any searches related to the topic.

Barnes & Noble said search results on its site depend on the terms that are used, with the word “vaccine” yielding a list of books with vaccine in the title or subject line. Rankings are based on the “exact proximity of the title to the search term used,” the company said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

“As a bookseller, we make available the many hundreds of thousands of titles that are published and do not expect any customer to assume a recommendation on our part simply because a book is listed in consequence of a general search. For each title, a sales ranking is given which gives indication of the popularity of the book,” a Barnes & Noble spokesperson added.

Amazon early last year removed books touting cures for autism as part of an effort by large technology companies to cut down on the spread of misinformation about vaccines.