Anti-vaccination books are being sold on Amazon and the websites of Waterstones and Foyles – amid calls for warnings on items to combat the spread of misinformation.
The number of customer reviews and ratings on books like these show there has been a big increase in purchases since the pandemic began.
In the UK, more than 20 million vaccine doses have been administered as part of efforts to defeat COVID-19, but worries continue that misinformation is stopping some people from having the jab.
Shadow health minister Alex Norris told Sky News: “Getting our population vaccinated is a massive priority and it is very sad to see these things so freely available.
“We would hope that retailers would act responsibly and have a look at whether they want to be associated with such products and whether they want to be seen to be profiting off such products.”
Anti-vaccination books for sale
Searching for the term “vaccine” on Amazon Books brings up a link to the government’s coronavirus advice, as well as a number of other legitimate texts.
But it also brings up anti-vaccination books, with texts such as Raising A Vaccine-Free Child appearing on the first page of results.
Anti-vaccine books also regularly appear in the top 10 bestsellers in the children’s vaccination category on Amazon.
One recent screenshot taken by Sky News shows the contentious books making up half of the top 10 bestsellers in the Children’s Vaccination & Immunisation category.
One of the most popular books in that genre is Anyone Who Tells You Vaccines Are Safe And Effective Is Lying, which is also available on Foyles’ website.
The author of that book, Vernon Coleman, stridently denies that he is anti-vaccine or that he publishes any medical misinformation, and claims he is publishing truths that are being suppressed.
Many of the anti-vaccination books have mostly positive reviews.
For example, more than 84% of the 1,263 reviews of Mr Coleman’s book are five stars. Around 1,000 of those top reviews were left by verified buyers.
Only 61 reviews were left before March 2020, indicating that purchases increased after the pandemic began.
Not all reviews are positive, with one recent verified review giving it one star, saying the reviewer felt let down after looking for a reliable vaccine book and had bought it as it had “a high rating”.
Amazon and Foyles do not provide any annotations to suggest Mr Coleman’s book contains disputed claims.
This lack of a “health warning” is something Mr Norris has called for.
He told Sky News: “This is anti-vax content. Much of it has been very strongly rebuffed and debunked.
“I don’t think it would be a solution to burn the books or throw them all away because actually I think the mystique would grow in that. But instead, we’d really welcome a sense of proportionate health warnings as we’ve started to see emerge online.”
Medical misinformation and COVID conspiracy
Books by the late Andreas Moritz entitled Heal Yourself With Sunlight; Cancer Is Not A Disease, It’s A Healing Mechanism; and an AIDS denial text Ending The AIDS Myth, can be found on the websites of all three retailers.
COVID conspiracy books are also being sold.
The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing The Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, And The New Normal is advertised as exposing how coronavirus data has been “widely manipulated and misrepresented” and claims “major safety questions have gone unanswered” over the vaccine.
An unnamed representative for the author said they deny the book is pushing misinformation and accused Sky News of running “public relations messaging from the pharmaceutical industry”.
Free speech campaigners say any calls for these books to be banned should be resisted.
Toby Young, general secretary for the Free Speech Union, told Sky News: “The problem with placing a limit on free speech and saying ‘we’re going to ban people who say or write things that are potentially harmful’ is that that word potentially is quite vague.
“If you grant yourself that right, you’re granting yourself the right to ban almost anything.”
He added: “The second [issue] is, who defines what is harmful. We think that there is a scientific consensus around things like the COVID vaccines but actually science is constantly developing and evolving new information is coming to light.”
Amazon has previously taken action against contentious coronavirus products being sold on its platform, including blocking products for false claims.
However, research from the Information School at the University of Washington found 10% of vaccine-related search results on Amazon led to products promoting misinformation.
Academics Prerna Juneja and Tanu Mitra also found Amazon was ranking misinformative search results higher than search results that debunked misinformation.
Ms Mitra, an assistant professor, said: “It was surprising that the platform has not really taken much into consideration about how to ensure that people really get accurate information when they are searching for vaccine or health-related content.”
Amazon’s marketing is also set up to create a “filter-bubble” effect – meaning when someone clicks on for example an anti-vaccine book by one author, they are served adverts for other anti-vaccine books by other authors available on the website.
What do the authors and retailers say?
All the authors of the texts included in this report deny that they are spreading misinformation or are anti-vaccine.
In response to our findings, Waterstones and Foyles said selling a book does not mean the company approves of its content, while Amazon said it encourages customers to read official sources of information and will remove any products that breach its guidelines.