Media ignore standoff between Kenya's Catholic bishops and its government over tetanus vaccine fears

tetanus vaccine fears

Pia de Solenni last week drew the attention of the Catholic blogosphere to a story out of Kenya that has escaped mainstream-media notice in the United States.

In her words, "the Bishops of Kenya issued what appeared to be a courageous statement exposing a clandestine population control program disguised as a tetanus vaccine program."

Now, read the following carefully.

The bottom line is that if the bishops' allegations are true, it's a serious issue and a major news story. And if their allegations are false, it's a serious issue and a major news story. Either way, this is a journalism issue.

So where is the news coverage?

Pia de Solenni quotes the statement, which reads in part:

Dear Kenyans, due to the direction the debate on the ongoing Tetanus Vaccine campaign in Kenya is taking, We, the Catholic Bishops, in fulfilling our prophetic role,  wish to restate our position as follows:

  1. The Catholic Church is NOT opposed to regular vaccines administered in Kenya, both in our own Church health facilities and in public health institutions.
  2. However, during the second phase of the Tetanus vaccination campaign in March 2014, that is sponsored by WHO/UNICEF,  the Catholic Church questioned the secrecy of the exercise. We raised questions on whether the tetanus vaccine was linked to a population control program that has been reported in some countries, where a similar vaccine was laced  with Beta- HCG hormone which causes infertility and multiple miscarriages in women.
  3. On March 26, 2014 and October 13, 2014, we met the Cabinet Secretary in-charge of health and the Director of Medical Services among others and rasied our concerns about the Vaccine and agreed to jointly test the vaccine. However the ministry did not cooperate and the joint tests were not done
  4. The Catholic Church struggled and acquired several vials of the vaccine, which we sent to Four unrelated  Government and private laboratories in Kenya and abroad.
  5. We want to announce here, that all the tests showed that the vaccine used in Kenya in March and October 2014  was indeed laced with the Beta- HCG hormone.
  6. On 13th of October 2014, the Catholic Church gave copies of the results to the cabinet secretary and the Director of Medical Services. The same was emailed to the Director of Medical Services on October 17, 2014.

Based on the above grounds, We, the Catholic Bishops in Kenya, wish to State the following:

  1. That we are shocked at the level of dishonesty and casual manner in which such a serious issue is being handled by the Government.
  2. That a report presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Health  November 4, 2014 by the Ministry of Health, claiming that the Government had tested the Vaccine and found it clean of  Beta- HCG hormone, is false and a deliberate attempt to distort the truth and mislead 42 million Kenyans.
  3. That we are dismayed by attempts to intimidate and blackmail medical professionals who have corroborated information about the vaccine, with threats of disciplinary action. We commend and support all professionals who have stood by the truth.
  4. That we shall not waver in calling upon all Kenyans to avoid the tetanus vaccination campaign laced with Beta-HCG, because we are convinced that  it is indeed a disguised population control programme.

The bishops' stance pits them against the Kenyan government, which vehemently denies the allegations. Business Daily Africa reports:

Claims that a tetanus vaccine administered on women can cause sterility has been dismissed after the Ministry of Health said lab results had proved the claims wrong.
The Catholic Church has been adamant that the vaccine contained traces of hCG antibodies which make women incapable of sustaining pregnancy. The clergy has been warning women against getting tetanus jabs claiming they had proof that the vaccine is a population control tool. The vaccination campaign is spearheaded by the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“We ordered two lab tests and the results came in yesterday showing no traces of hCG in the tetanus vaccines,” said Nicholas Muraguri, the Director of Medical Services when he appeared before National Assembly Committee on Health.
Mr Muraguri recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Bishop Stephen Karanja of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association whom he blamed for raising false alarm against the vaccine.

Here in the United States, the closest that the bishops' allegations have gotten to mainstream attention thus far has been via a analysis deeming them false. Snopes' reasoning is based on its author's intuition that the bishops' claim is based on "fallacious thinking" and "rumors," and that the only evidence the bishops have presented is that of their own experts. In other words, the bishops and their experts are one half of a story:

[The] claim of heretofore-unavailable sterility vaccines being secretly administered to Kenyan women relies solely on the assertions made by Kenyan doctors and bishops who oppose the vaccine program. No independent tests have confirmed that the doses in question were contaminated in the manner the groups suggest, and no corresponding fertility disruptions in Kenya have emerged to corroborate the claims of surreptitious mass sterilization. 

It is true that "[no] independent tests have confirmed that the doses in question were contaminated" -- but that is because, as far as I can tell, no independent tests have been done at all. Luis Franceschi, Dean of Strathmore Law School (run by the Catholic religious institute Opus Dei), writes in a column for Kenya's Daily Nation.

The divide can be easily remedied. It is a matter of trust. The solution is simple, but requires from all sides a little token of humility and the capacity to back-pedal.
The government should bring on board the Church and representatives from WHO and hand in genuine samples of this vaccine batch to independent labs. If the vaccine is laced with hCG, then the campaign should be suspended. If it is not, the Church should apologise and support the campaign.
Clearly, one of the two should back-pedal, and this depends purely on scientific evidence, not religious or moral convictions.

Now, I realize that the dean of an Opus Dei school is not necessarily the most impartial observer concerning a stance taken by Catholic bishops. Moreover, it is not at all unusual for members of religious groups to raise conspiracy fears over vaccines. However, this Kenya case marks the first time of which I'm aware that a national body of Catholic bishops claimed to have scientific evidence to back a conspiracy claim. 

However, as I said earlier, if the bishops' allegations are true, it's a serious issue; if their allegations are false, it's a serious issue.

Either way, the health of Kenyans hangs in the balance while a major institution misleads the public. For that reason alone, I'd say that the allegations and the government's response deserve to be investigated and reported by Stateside mainstream media.

What do you think? Why not cover the story?

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