The UK media was feeling pretty smug last week, due to the fact they single-handedly averted the cervical-cancer-vaccine-Armageddon. The tragic death of Natalie Morton mere hours after receiving the human papillomavirus vaccine could have been a story straight from heaven for a media constantly denied the tales of horror they feel they so deserve. Those damn scientists just refuse to prove that the vaccines we are pumping into our children are turning them into autistic dead people.

So while there was an initial, and, to be fair, understandable panic, this was short lived as the relevant authorities quickly swung into action and began reassuring the nation. Those whose job it is to make decisions based on evidence have seemingly learned from the debacle that was the MMR vaccine. The joint director for public health for NHS Coventry and Coventry city council even went as far as to release preliminary findings of the post-mortem, in an attempt to prevent the media working itself into too much of an indignant lather.

The majority of media outlets did tone down their reporting. The Mirror encouraged parents not to panic. Why-ever would they do that? The Sunday Express, however, stood firm in the face of facts, claiming that JAB ‘AS DEADLY AS THE CANCER’. They based this subtle headline on an “exclusive interview” with Dr. Diane Harper, “who was involved in the clinical trials of the controversial drug Cervarix”. They went on to write that she has claimed “The cervical cancer vaccine may be riskier and more deadly than the cancer it is designed to prevent” and quote her as saying “All this jab will do is prevent girls getting some abnormalities associated with cervical cancer which can be treated. It will not decrease cervical cancer rates at all”.

Indeed Dr. Harper has been heavily involved in a number of trials of both GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix and Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil. And indeed Dr Harper has raised concerns about the manner in which these drugs have been promoted and the risks associated with them.

However the way Dr Harper was portrayed in the article was strange given that she herself has written that “HPV vaccination of pre-pubescent girls will be effective for many girls. Vaccinating girls and women older than 12 years of age may accelerate the reduction in cervical cancer rates” and, not 2 months ago “Post-marketing surveillance of Cervarix and Gardasil continues to show that they are safe for most women despite rarely occurring serious events”.

Thus it was with unsurprising inevitability that it turned out the good Doctor had been completely misrepresented by the Express. When I contacted Dr Harper shortly after the piece was published she said she had been “burned” by UK reporters. She has now filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission. The paper has pulled the story from their website, and published an apology over the weekend.

It seems the media simply hasn’t learnt. When all the mainstream outlets jumped on the MMR bandwagon, even though anyone with the barest understanding of the subject could see there was nothing too it, it directly lead to a decrease in parents getting their children immunised and thus an increase in the levels of measles. Crap reporting has a direct consequence on the world, and until mainstream media realise and accept their responsibilities they will continue, in a very real sense, to put people lives at risk. The Express has not responded to my request for clarification on how they came to the conclusion that the HPV jab was more dangerous than cervical cancer. What impact their apparent misrepresentation will have on cervical cancer rates remains to be seen.

October 14, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Ipso Factoid | 7 Comments »

7 Responses

  1. Julie Smith says:

    I’ve investigated the HPV vaccine Gardasil, as we have a daughter. What is most disturbing about this vaccine is that if girls have already been exposed to the two viruses in the vaccine which supposedly cause cervical cancer, giving them this vaccine re-activates the virus. Girls in the USA who were vaccinated when Gardasil was first rolled out three years ago, and who are now having their first pap smears, are showing a high rate of pre-cancerous lesions. It should be noted that these HPV viruses are not just spread through sexually content but normal skin to skin contact. It is well documented that young children from 3 years up have been in contact with these two strains. For this reason that is why the HPV vaccines may actually increase girls chances of cervical cancer by 46%. Only time will tell as to who is right and who is wrong. Unfortunately it’s the young girls who will be caught in the crossfire if this proves the case and also the concern of infertility due to this vaccine. On a totally different note have a look at Verilink, the microchip for humans, dramatic rise in it’s company’s stock price. I can’t wait to hear how you explain the benefits of this one. I hope you are all the first to line up for the test run on these. Bless your naive little hearts.

  2. tkw says:

    I would just like to correct the comment here by Julie Smith that Gardasil can give girls cancer. Firstly, Gardasil is a preventative vaccine therefore it works best if given to girls before they come in contact with the virus. Gardasil does not contain live virus, it is a recombinant vaccine that contains “virus like particles” (VLPs). The VLPs contain no viral DNA so they cannot infect cells with HPV, nor can they reproduce. Exposing your immune system to VLPs is a bit like showing your body a synthetic version of the virus – your immune defenses learn to fight the virus so if/when you do come in contact with the actual infection you can fight it off.
    The point is that without live virus in the vaccine those girls cannot be ‘infected’ by the vaccine. Secondly, you state that the vaccine ‘re-activates’ the virus if you have already been exposed which is not wrong and if you argue otherwise I invite you to supply your sources. Finally, there is no scientific proof that HPV vaccines can increase the risk of cervical cancer (strange that you make this statement when you question the link in your opening paragraph) or cause infertility. Anecdotes do not equal evidence and you really should support your alarming claims with a credible sources of information. To believe rumour without proof is naive.

  3. tkw says:

    Sorry – correction to my post above – I meant to say that claims that vaccination after exposure can ‘re-activate’ the virus ARE wrong.

  4. Julie Smith says:

    When Dr Diane Harper who headed the clinical trials spoke out in a Radio New Zealand interview 01 Aug 08 that no girl should be given this vaccine blind without first checking if she has already been exposed to the viruses in the vaccine, and also that she had very real concerns at the agressive marketing of the vaccine. Especially the fact that it is being tauted as a “cervical cancer vaccine” which she said is simply not true. Dr Harper stated it is a HPV vaccine. That it would be another 20-30 years before research could make the claim that it was a cervical cancer vaccine. She also asked our government not to implement the vaccine programme here because of her concerns surrounding the safety of Gardasil and the very real “scary” in her words, side effects. She now has very real concerns for the girls worldwide who have already been vaccinated with Gardasil. She said how it presents in the general population can be very different to trials.
    Dr Harper asked our government to take a wait and see approach. Dr Harper is one of the few who can give “credible” advice on Gardasil.
    I have had many mothers and girls contact me through my site http://www.offtheradar.co.nz telling me of the effects Gardasil is having on them. The most common side effect is continued pelvic pain and/or ovarian cysts. Many have not had their periods since being vaccinated. No periods and ovarian cysts will certainly have an impact on their fertility. I don’t go by reports or percentages I go by what actual victims tell me. As I said earlier only time will tell and I hope that those who laud these two HPV vaccines are right and that I am wrong for the sake of the millions of girls who have already been exposed to these vaccines. Finally tkw, who hides behind initials,could you enlighten me as to why girls have had outbreaks of the wart virus in the vaccine, immediately after having been vaccinated

  5. @ Julie Smith: to be clear, Dr. Harper directed her remarks specifically to the vaccination of girls as young as 11, because her own trials were on women ages 15-25. Moreover, her concern over increased cervical cancer rates was not that the vaccine would cause cancer but that vaccinated women will not be diligent in getting annual Pap smears because they will falsely believe they are protected, when in fact there are at least 8 non-vaccine related strains of HPV that also cause cancer.

    Finally, when speaking to people about HPV and cervical cancer, please be more careful with your choice of words. For example, there is no “supposedly” when it comes to HPV causing cervical cancer. That is an absolute fact. And it is also an absolute fact that the vaccine protects women, at least for a period of 7 years, against contracting the 2 types of HPV (16 & 18) that cause 70% of all cervical cancer. Even Dr. Harper would agree with me on this.

  6. tkw says:

    Dr Harper’s criticisms have largely been around the marketing of the vaccines, not the actual vaccines themselves. Gardasil IS an HPV vaccine that protects people from the 2 strains that cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. So she is absolutely correct when she says “not a cervical cancer vaccine” because it isn’t (directly) – it’s a vaccine against disease causing viral strains. That’s not a safety issue, that is a marketing issue.
    It is true that trial populations do not always match what happens in the real world – which is why large trial populations are needed to get significant data. Gardasil was tested on over 20,000 women. Duration of protection is an issue Dr Harper also raised last year as the initial trial data was for 5 years – recent data has shown an immune memory response, which is an indicator of long term protection.
    You state that Dr Harper is one of the people who can give ‘credible advice’ about Gardasil – then I urge you to reread the article and note that she stated in an interview 2 months ago: “Post-marketing surveillance of Cervarix and Gardasil continues to show that they are safe for most women despite rarely occurring serious events”. If you, or people you know of, have concerns about health issues that may be vaccine related then they really need to talk to their doctors immediately so they can be investigated further. Most ovarian cysts are harmless, but they do need to be monitored (I know, I have been diagnosed with them myself).
    As for your reports of wart virus outbreaks immediately after vaccination I cannot tell you anything about this as you have not supplied information. I would again strongly suggest you recommend the people reporting this to you take their daughters to see a doctor. The vaccine contains no live virus so other options, including sexual abuse, could also be considered. BTW do you see any irony in commenting on an article about media distortion of facts when you have a website that appears to do exactly this?

  7. Well said tkw, whoever you are. The amount of misinformation out there is simply astounding and it is nice to know I’m not the only one who isn’t using sound bites and op-eds as truth and is instead educating people about the real facts. As an advocate for the awareness and prevention of cervical cancer/HPV disease, I think the women of this world deserve better than hyperbole and fear-mongering.