A front page headline in La Jornada on May 10 was heartbreaking in its own right and worrisome for the reaction it could unleash: “IMSS temporary cancels three vaccines after the death of two babies.” (IMSS is the national social security institute, which provides state subsidized medical care.)
The head over the main story (all the papers run short versions of their top stories on the front page, and the complete ones inside) puts it in starker terms: “Chiapas: two children die from allergic reactions to vaccines; 29 more still hospitalized.”
Negative public reaction, judging from online comments, was not aimed at the idea of vaccines per se, as it might have been had the tragedy occurred in the United States or Europe. If it had been, today’s follow-up La Jornada headline on the inside pages probably wouldn’t have calmed things down, since anti-vaccine hysteria is unaffected by facts: “‘No connection” between hepatitis B vaccine and babies' death in Chiapas.” Excelsior was the only paper to front the clarification with the small headline “Vaccines didn’t fail: IMSS.”
The problem was with contamination, health officials concluded. This of course makes the situation no less tragic, but it shifts attention to where it belongs, namely unforgivable negligence by those up and down the line in the vaccination process in the Chiapas town where it took place.
There is justifiable fear in Mexico of outbreaks of debilitating or deadly infectious diseases. An outbreak of vaccine paranoia is something to fear as well.