Does an article in a Reunionese daily reveal the dangers of messenger RNA vaccines, based on a forthcoming study?

Question asked on May 29, 2022

You ask us about the origin of a text relayed on social networks, the appearance of which evokes that of a press article, and presented as taken from the title the Daily of the Meeting. It would be “a warning in the form of a questioning of the terrible dangers posed by the Pfizer / Moderna mRNA vaccines against COVID-19”. The text, titled “Messenger RNA vaccine: a study sounds the alarm” echoes “of a study, extremely serious and documented, without conflicts of interest of the authors, published on April 15 in ScienceDirect”which would yield “results to be published in the Official Journal of the Chinese Society of Toxicology (CTF), an internationally renowned toxicology journal” according to which “the Sars-CoV-2 mRNA “vaccines” would cause: the creation of a modified mRNA with complex but above all unpredictable effects; sustained production of Spike proteins; impaired innate immunity”etc.

As several netizens were quick to point out – and a journalist from Daily – this text, actually published on May 27 in the Reunionese newspaper, is not a journalistic article. It is actually taken from the “Letters from the Readers” page. In the printed version, the topic name appears very clearly at the top of the page. In the version circulating online, this important clarification is skipped.

The study referred to is known to readers of CheckNews, since we devoted an article to it at the beginning of May. Published online April 15 on the journal’s publisher’s website Food and Chemical Toxicologythis alarmist publication has been the subject of intense criticism, pointing to the essentially speculative nature of the arguments, as well as the lack of expertise of the authors with regard to the many subjects they address.

Even in the letters to the editor, the publication of a text promoting such a controversial article, without putting it into journalistic perspective, in the Daily of the Meetingchallenged many Internet users.

A text that has been circulating for at least ten days

The published letter appears signed by a certain Bruno Bourgeon, a nephrologist from Reunion. A “accustomed to letters from readers of the Daily», as one of the journalists of the title noted in August in an article covering a demonstration against the health pass, in which this doctor participated. Over the past nine months, at least twenty letters signed with his name have been published on page 2 of the Daily, dealing with subjects relating essentially to questions of ecology. However, the team of CheckNews was surprised to recognize, in this prose, a text which circulates for at least ten days on various Internet sites, presented under another signature.

Apart from the introduction of the letter, most of the paragraphs appear in fact copied and pasted from a text signed by a certain Thibaut Masco, author of a letter distributed by subscription, called “Uncensored Health”, which presents itself as a magazine of “new alternatives freed from lobbies”. Contacted by CheckNewsBruno Bourgeon confirms having taken over the text of “Uncensored Health”, “by adapting it to be a little more proselytizing vis-à-vis the people of Reunion. But the Daily did not reproduce in extenso the text that I transmitted to them, it will be published on the site of my association. The nephrologist tells us that he “has not yet read the reviews of this article”. However, he tells us “that when someone says something that is not in the mainstream, let’s say, I tend to think that the criticisms that rain down behind are already well directed, often by people who may have conflicts of interest”. Author of controversial remarks on health measures, the nephrologist had been summoned in December before the Order of Physicians, but no sanction had been imposed on him – due, according to Bourgeon, “of a procedural defect”.

“A committed reflection on scientific information”

Kevin Bulard, editor of the Reunion newspaperexplains to CheckNews having been informed of the controversy during the day. The Daily of Reunion was created in 1976, in a very particular context, a locked information context. The right owned all the newspapers, in which you could put nothing but the dominant voice – 90% of Reunion’s population, mainly the Creoles, were left out. This newspaper was created precisely to fight against censorship and, from the beginning, we have been fighting for freedom of expression. Readers’ mail is a space for freedom of expression, and we are very attached to it. But obviously, it is not without limit. At the editorial office, we take the law as a framework: we will challenge all letters that relate to defamation, incitement to racial hatred, any form of discrimination, call to violence, etc This is our compass. Letters from readers are positions, opinions, which are free expression, but it does not reflect the editorial line of the newspaper. The manager states that the Daily “has published letters from readers who take a stand in favor of vaccination … and which have earned us dumps of insults“, that refers “to the letter of a professor from the University of Reunion who established a link between the fourth wave in the overseas departments, the low vaccination rate, and the illiteracy rate… We are careful about what we publish, but you can be wrong. We do not always have the scientific knowledge to validate the statements. But we have the legal knowledge necessary to know what we have the right to pass or not.

The editor-in-chief notes that on May 30 he received a letter from a researcher setting out criticisms of the article published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. “We will call him back”, he explains. Concerning the precaution of seeking an outside opinion or the advice of scientific editors on such subjects, Kevin Bulard admits that he “these are debates that take place in the drafting of the Daily. We’ve had a lot of discussions about this lately. The newspaper hosted a health and wellness trade show, and it was an opportunity to put things on the table. There are indeed very different opinions on how to deal with scientific information in writing, and we are in the middle of thinking about how we are going to improve. Last week and the previous week, everyone defended their arguments on the subject, it gave rise to sometimes lively exchanges, and we agreed to sit down and establish a method. Until now, we were on the journalistic treatment of scientific information and health issues in a more general way, and we are going to include readers’ letters in this reflection. We are a small regional daily newspaper. If we are not at the top, we try to improve.

Activists “use the newspaper as a propaganda tool”

The weekend controversy resonated strongly within the editorial staff of the Daily. Edouard Marchal, union representative of the SNJ section of the newspaper, judge “that medical and scientific untruths cannot be allowed to spread in such a casual way. The answer that it was published in the mail box cannot satisfy us. The publisher’s responsibility is obviously to have control over the editorial content. And that goes for letters from readers, a fortiori when it is placed on page 2 as is our case, and is enriched with a photo…” He further considers that “The Readers’ Mail page is, indisputably, cynically used by anti-vaccine activists, who use the newspaper as a propaganda tool.”

The present controversy “Follows a number of reservations that we have already expressed on the editorial line, and on the way in which we deal with movements hostile to vaccination. In a department where we have vaccination rates below the national average, I think we have a duty of increased vigilance. Admittedly, we are not specialized journalists, we do not all have the scientific culture necessary to tackle these subjects, but we must do our job of verifying and clarifying the information. It is necessary to burst the abscess thanks to this incident. The thing that we can be criticized for is, certainly, not having reacted earlier on these questions, perhaps because we did not want to create tensions between divergent opinions within the editorial staff. But today, I think we can no longer be silent: it is our reputation as journalists that is being tarnished today. We pass for jerks by publishing this kind of text”concludes Edouard Marchal.

[Mise à jour du 31/05/22 à 17h15 : au cinquième paragraphe, correction d’un pluriel («une manifestation» au lieu de «des manifestations», et «à laquelle» au lieu de «auxquelles».]

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