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 . 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.