you're reading...
vaccines

Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says the Toronto Star is wrong.

When I was 22 weeks pregnant with triplets I had a craving for a Jamba Juice. So I had one. Three days later I ruptured my membranes and my son Aidan was born and died.

During the hospitalization that followed I had a craving for another Jamba Juice and my then husband stalled and delayed until he finally admitted that he didn’t want to get it because what if it had caused my membranes to rupture? I was still pregnant with two boys and he just couldn’t take that risk.

Now I did many things that I don’t typically do the week before my membranes ruptured. I made tomatillo salsa, I ate home-made egg salad sandwiches. I watched Casablanca.  But he was fixated on the Jamba Juice.

It’s easy to see why. When something terrible and with seemingly little explanation happens we start searching for the cause. This, I believe, is the result of years of evolution. We are programmed to avoid the catastrophic and how can we possibly avoid it without a cause? We need need to find something that helps us reframe what seems senseless.

Of course as an OB/GYN I knew my membranes ruptured because I had triplets. That is a know risk, but the biological reasons have not been fully elucidated. I also knew that it was biologically implausible that I caught Listeria (the only food-acquired infection that would cause me to rupture my membranes without otherwise felling ill) from the Pina Colada Jamba Juice as I’m willing to bet they use pasteurized milk. But that is the difference between having the medical information to understand what seems unexplainable and not.

This is very important when we understand vaccine fears, because bad things do happen to people and many, many people get vaccines. So catastrophic things will sometimes happen to people shortly after they get vaccinated and it is the job of science to figure out if this is cause and effect or not. It’s the job of journalists to present this information to the public in a balanced, factual non-sensationalist way.

Except at the Toronto Star, apparently their job is to present biased reporting about the HPV vaccine with little regard for published data (i.e. facts). And what better than to stoke fears about vaccines for page hits than in the middle of a measles epidemic related to low vaccination rates due to unfounded vaccine fears.

imagesThe Toronto Star’s front page today was awash with claims that the HPV vaccine had grievously injured young girl after young girl in Canada. Three photos of the reportedly injured girls were presented along with a photo of a mother holding a photo of her deceased daughter.

The death of any young girl is a tragic thing. Severe illness and injury are tragic things especially to the young. However, saying these things happened sometime after receiving a Gardasil shot is not proof at all. Interviewing a known anti-Gardasil crusader, Dr. Diane Harper, is not exploring the story it’s interviewing someone who curiously is opposed to Gardasil, but finds the Cervarix vaccine very safe.

Paragraph after paragraph is dedicated to detailing the terrible things that happened to these young girls and their families and in an Oprah-esque move the wealth of information detailing the vaccine’s safety was distilled to a few comments easy to ignore in among the trail of destruction allegedly due to the vaccine. The president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) is quoted as calling it “safe” and a Health Canada spokeswoman is reported as saying, “None of the adverse events reviewed have suggested any concerning trends or patterns linked to the HPV vaccines in Canada.” Not much to counter the visceral reactions of a young girl with a nasogastric tube or a mother holding a picture of her dead child.

In addition to the reporting bias, the article also completely misunderstands/misrepresents the vaccine adverse reporting system (VAERS) in the U.S:

“In the U.S., where there is a public database of vaccine-related side-effect reports collected from around the world, the Star found thousands of suspected cases, including more than 100 deaths. While the number and details of these reports may be concerning,”

But VAERS is not causation, it’s a collection of events. To insinuate otherwise is wrong and irresponsible.

In a 3 minute search on PubMed I found three articles that the reporter apparently “missed” (assuming, of course, that unbiased reporting was the goal).

A detailed reviewed of the VAERS data in JAMA in 2009 showing the adverse events after HPV vaccination with Gardasil “were not greater than the background rates compared with other vaccines, but there was disproportional reporting of syncope and venous thromboembolic events. The significance of these findings must be tempered with the limitations (possible under reporting) of a passive reporting system. no link between.”

And a 2013 study of almost 1 million girls showing no increased risk of autoimmune disorders, neurological illnesses or blood clots (answering one questioned raided in the JAMA article).

There are excellent reviews on the HPV vaccine in Forbes with links to safety data and also at PLoS blogs (if going through PubMed was too much of a chore for the reporter). I’ve written on the safety of HPV vaccination.  I’ve previously spoken with Dr. Kevin Ault from the University of Kansas, a HPV vaccine investigator, and he doesn’t feel there is any safety concern hidden in the data. He had his own daughters vaccinated.

It’s also very curious to me that the reporter didn’t ask Dr. Diane Harper for references to back up her claims about “harm,” although to be fair it is unclear if she is speaking about her concern that young women may forgo Pap smears if they get vaccinated. But then again there is very little data in the article at all, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

Reporting requires looking at all sides of the story, but to write about vaccine concerns with zero facts to support your assertions and only interviewing a researcher who appears to have significant bias is tabloid journalism at best and only contributes to vaccine myths.

No one is doubting that the girls in the article had illnesses and that there was great suffering, but study after study shows that there is no link between the kinds of events reported and the vaccine. In fact, blaming the vaccine might even prevent doctors from looking for other causes of these events.

The press has already done so much damage when it comes to vaccine safety, why must the Toronto Star further contribute to this misinformation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion

51 thoughts on “Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says the Toronto Star is wrong.

  1. Well said, Jen. Completely irresponsible from the Star.

    Posted by supermarioelia | February 5, 2015, 5:29 pm
    • Three photos of the reportedly injured girls were presented along with a photo of a mother holding a photo of her deceased daughter. How can you be so cruel? My son died at 3 days old as I had taken zoloft in the first trimester of pregnancy. Yeah 19 years ago, I reported it (as did my friend also suffering zoloft half a heart baby with her daughter)…. two reports done? I tried finding that orginal report, no record of it. If reports are ignored, as you want them to be, then the true statistics are never known? As for you blaming idiotic things on your premature end to pregnancy, sounds like you are calling all us mothers stupid and ignorant. Your article is offensive.

      Posted by ang | May 13, 2015, 1:32 am
  2. Thank you! I was asked about this just the other day, and am preparing (yet another) write-up on “YES, Gardisil is safe. Please vaccinate your kids” — so again, thank you!

    Posted by denise367 | February 5, 2015, 5:41 pm
  3. GREAT post!
    After looking at VAERS using the search terms mentioned by something that became viral (I won’t name it here since I’d have to look it up and don’t want to give them more hits)…I noticed a problem with their ‘system’… actually, more in the layout of the system. Because of the font size/block size used…it puts the diagnosis/cause of death BELOW the first ‘screen’…which means of course that most people just clicking through will see only the symptoms and what vaccine was given before the symptoms…which isn’t entirely true either…because those are the PRESENTED symptoms at/before time of death…which, in some cases had been going on for months or YEARS before hand… If people would care to look at the entirety of the data, 98% were from something else (a guess, I only looked at 30 – 40 of the 100 or so records). Only ONE showed what could be claimed as an adverse reaction to the vaccine. As I recall, it started with hives, then trouble breathing, and then death. While sad…this would seem to be an allergic reaction to something IN the vaccine (which, as we all know is entirely possible) which is why some people cannot or should not be vaccinated. A few of those records also showed that the person died up to 2 YEARS after…which is a pretty far stretch until you see that the person had an underlying illness (I believe that one was epilepsy with a history of grand mal seizures…)… Is it “linked” to the vaccine…SURE it is, like it’s linked to eating bread, or drinking water…
    I have no doubt that people have died or become very ill DUE to vaccines…but that’s due to ‘previous’ medical history (either documented or undocumented)… which, while sad that they are no longer with us, means virtually nothing to the debate other than maybe wanting to test for allergies to specific things within the vaccine…

    I’ll bring up one last point… one of the people in the article mentioned had said she had a ‘metal’ allergy (which I’ve seen before)… and that the vaccine contained aluminum salts (which apparently was not mentioned or known by the person administering the shot or the patient). Obviously, not being a Doctor myself, this would LOOK like the vaccine caused the adverse reaction, but, as someone who can think critically, I can see it as being an adverse reaction to something within the shot itself… as I said… an allergy to something within the shot does NOT make the shot harmful to people, only those WITH that allergy…
    Conclusion: unless you’re allergic to something in it…get the shot, get all the ones you need… and if you ARE allergic to something in the shot, DON’T get it…but convince everyone who can to get it…

    Posted by bobdunkin | February 5, 2015, 5:57 pm
  4. “In a 3 minute search on PubMed I found three articles that the reporter apparently “missed” (assuming, of course, that unbiased reporting was the goal).”

    No the goal is page clicks. That’s the only metric ‘reporters’ use these days. Also Journalists are taught in school that they always need to provide ‘balance’ because every ‘issue’ has two and only two sides.

    See http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Balance_fallacy

    Posted by Gibbon1 | February 5, 2015, 7:13 pm
    • Agreed that this looks like pure clickbait – there was no accidental “missing”. There’s a disclaimer (that the reader doesn’t even see until at least the 2nd screen) that says:
      “In the cases discussed in this article, it is the opinion of a patient or doctor that a particular drug has caused a side-effect. There is no conclusive evidence showing the vaccine caused a death or illness”

      Which rather contradicts the implication of the title: “HPV vaccine Gardasil has a dark side, Star investigation finds”. Using “has” and “finds” without even the plausible deniability of words like “may be linked”, or “shows” is even more blatantly dishonest than usual – the sort of thing I expect from Natural News, but not a major newspaper in a major city.

      Posted by theobromine | February 6, 2015, 8:11 am
  5. It’s amazing how the mind works–wanting to draw connections to explain things that happen. It’s human, but with good research and sound science we can find the truth. Great post, Jen.

    Posted by bethhavey | February 5, 2015, 8:29 pm
  6. Hi! Have you sent this to the editor of the Toronto Star? I hope so — journalists need to be held accountable for their mistakes.

    Posted by Linda | February 6, 2015, 9:07 am
  7. Thank you for this article. I saw the ridiculous headline yesterday, but didn’t want to read the article – it was so obvious from the headline that it was likely to be biased and inaccurate, and I certainly didn’t want to give them a single click or set of eyeballs. So, thanks for reading it so I didn’t have to!

    Posted by smartygirlb | February 6, 2015, 9:41 am
  8. This is a fantastic article. THANK YOU. The Toronto Star has been pursuing a drug safety narrative for months, and their reporters do NOT shy away from ensuring a given story fits within the narrative. Sadly, the articles often present half-truths, bias and in general are fear-mongering pieces of semi-fiction created for click$$$$$ (or perhaps to justify the salaries of so many reporters doing ‘investigative’ work). I’m glad you published this on your blog, because the Star will never publish it as a Letter to the Editor….they have no interest in presenting a full picture and instead prefer to conflate correlation with causation.

    Posted by Gabby | February 7, 2015, 5:24 am
  9. As an oncology dietitian who works extensively with head and neck cancer patients, misinformation about HPV vaccination makes my blood boil. While the vaccines are not marketed for the prevention of P16 positive H&N cancers, our oncologists feels the likelihood of protection against them by the currently available vaccines is very good. If these parents could see what I see every day in men and women, many in the prime of their lives, they would run to have their children vaccinated. Our center also treats women with cervical cancer, many still very much in their child-bearing years. It’s heartbreaking to me to know that many girls today are being denied a potentially very effective preventive measure against this and other HPV-caused diseases because of misinformation perpetuated for profit and ego.

    Posted by angmarie5 | February 7, 2015, 7:25 am
    • there’s no free lunch: Increased expression of the p16 gene as organisms age reduces the proliferation of stem cells.[8] This reduction in the division and production of stem cells protects against cancer while increasing the risks associated with cellular senescence…

      Posted by ceejay | February 10, 2015, 8:18 pm
    • Well said, Ive been trying to research this issue, because I want to bring awareness to the need to have government funded vaccinations available to our young men too. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for doing the difficult job you do

      Posted by Mary Ann Frerotte | August 23, 2015, 6:54 pm
  10. sigh….thanks Jen for the frank and intelligent rebuttal of the Star “story”

    I’m really starting to lose my patience with the gang of anti-science crusaders

    If they don’t want to vaccinate their own kids and let them take their chances with (preventable)
    life threatening diseases, so be it, but this kind if crap pushes buttons at the political and regulatory
    levels that endangers the principles of universal vaccination

    The sub-text of the Gardasil story is that parents of young girls don’t need to worry about
    vaccinating their daughters, so long as they are chaste until marriage and marry a man who will only ever
    have sex with her

    So, in other words, vaccination is fine for “bad” girls, but not for MY little princess

    great thinking there…hope that works out for you….

    Then, we have the issue of what HPV is doing to MEN, penile cancers are probably not
    the end of the story, where else does the virus create cancer risks?

    We are probably going to see the same conversation around an HIV vaccine when it
    becomes available…

    Posted by Mike Marini | February 7, 2015, 10:27 am
  11. Jen, great piece. It looks like the Toronto Star doesn’t like your criticism, tho: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/02/06/vaccine-debate-is-one-we-shouldnt-even-be-having-mallick.html

    That piece doesn’t call you out by name, but I have a feeling if you skim it you might pick up a subtle reference to this blog….

    “Real” journalists don’t like it when bloggers make them look bad. It makes them peevish.

    Keep wielding your lasso.

    Posted by Dr. Roy | February 7, 2015, 10:42 am
  12. This article in the Star also made my blood boil. I am a family physician who has seen more than my fair share of genital warts, cervical dysplasia, cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and anal cancer all from HPV which could have been prevented by an incredibly safe and effective vaccine. Furthermore, retinoblastoma and some forms of seizure disorder have also been linked to oncogenic HPV. I have personally given probably thousands of HPV vaccines with no serious side effects, and both my children, a girl and a boy have also had their vaccines, with no ill effect. Of course, my anecdotal story would never be interesting enough for the Star, whose reporters rely on people not understanding correlation and causation. I spend a large part of my day dealing with the anxiety provoked by the media when they write such inflammatory articles to garner sales. Maybe the government should look at that as a cause of increased health care spending.

    Posted by Dr. Pat McLean | February 10, 2015, 4:54 am
  13. I was pretty frustrated by Carol Oft in that CBC interview — it seemed like more fodder for the folks who believe, without evidence, that drug companies are hiding dangerous side effects of vaccines and are thrusting these vaccines on people who don’t need them because they (the drug companies) want to make money. And governments and the mainstream media (except for a pair of intrepid reporters) are in their pockets. It’s a great plot for a mid-90s thriller. They might be (anything’s possible) — but where’s the evidence?

    “But look at (any of the various drugs that ended up having huge side effects)!” goes the argument. “They’ve done it before, so they could be doing it with vaccines.”

    I guess they could. But, you spread this in a newspaper with no evidence?

    I still don’t understand Oft’s or the Star’s argument. What transparency is missing here? If the Star story is indeed as clear as they say that there’s no proof that these deaths and illnesses are linked to vaccines, what was the point of the story?

    Posted by Jack Sanders | February 10, 2015, 10:27 am
  14. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord.

    Posted by McCraft | February 10, 2015, 6:05 pm
  15. Excellent and needed statement.

    Posted by Kristien Michael | February 12, 2015, 12:49 am
  16. So my previous post is still pending, but I thought I’d post about something I just read about. PANDAS. It supposedly is caused by a strep infection and in some kids can cause sudden onset of OCD symptoms and Tics. Something about confusing the child’s immune system, causing it to attack the brain. I read that the only successful treatment is medium to long term antibiotic treatment. In any case, this condition is rare. And it is controversial whether Strep causes PANDAS.
    So my question is, can a statistical study show a connection between a ‘possible cause’ and an effect, if the chance of the effect if very rare? Won’t the rarity of it get hidden in the “noise” that is the error % of the statistical study? Or won’t it be discarded as insignificant, because it is so small in occurrence in the study (rare)? This question also applies to the statistical studies that look at Vaccines and the negative effects they may or may not have.
    Obviously I am not a statistician that knows the answer, but I was hoping perhaps Dr. Gunter may be, or may know some one that is.
    And finally, to be able to say there is (or is not) a link between things like this, wouldn’t it be necessary to do a genetic study on the kids that are “supposedly” effected negatively by Strep [or Vaccines] to see if they have something in common that is not common among those not effected negatively?

    Posted by JohnV | February 15, 2015, 5:42 pm
    • This was my previous post (that doesn’t seem to be posting):

      Dr. Gunter,

      interesting article. So I was wondering something about how statistics are used with [medical] studies.

      “And a 2013 study of almost 1 million girls showing no increased risk of autoimmune disorders, neurological illnesses or blood clots (answering one questioned raided in the JAMA article).”

      So if I had secretly inserted into the study one girl (of the million studied) that would responded to the vaccine with a blood clot, say, would the study’s conclusion change? Basically, if the side effect is rare enough will it not be found [to be significant] in these kinds of studies?

      And, if above is true, is this one of the reasons why most doctors are against mandatory ‘treatments’ and are in-favour of informed consent?

      I tried reading the study, but the language – such as “Only events with at least five vaccine exposed cases were considered for further assessment.” – confuses me. For example, that statement sounds like one needs five vaccine shots before they are allowed in the study or at least further studied? And that seems odd to me, as one could ‘react’ to the vaccine after the first shot.

      Thanks,
      John.

      Posted by JohnV | February 19, 2015, 6:57 pm
  17. There is a huge opportunity cost of this vaccine.

    So far there is no evidence that giving the HPV vaccine (not cervical cancer vaccine) to millions of young women in their teens will reduce cervical cancer in their 50’s or 60’s yet. Nearly all women develop an HPV infection but it is so rare to develop cervical cancer that something else is clearly involved.

    In the US for example the majority of women who get cervical cancer are also those that lack consistent gyn care or are recent immigrants. So are we wasting billions to “prevent” a disease in the wrong women? Will other strains of HPV become more prevalent as a result (similar to anti-biotic resistant bacterial infections). The shots cost 900 for the series but other illnesses like suicide take far more lives in young adults than HPV and its link to cervical cancer 40 years later.

    Posted by Jennifer Bollen, MD | February 19, 2015, 8:03 am
    • Actually there is a wealth of data on the HPV vaccine and outcomes.
      The vaccine reduces infection with the targeted strains by > 95% and studies show a significant reduction in CIN 2 and CIN 3 cervical lesions. You can just go to this weeks NEJM to see the latest randomized clinical trial). Then there is the wealth of data on reducing genital warts to essentially zero. As I treat women with persistent warts all I can tell you is these women suffer, they might not have cancer but having to come in every every few months to have pieces cut or frozen or lasered off isn’t fun.

      The point of the shot of course isn’t just to prevent cancer, it is also to prevent dysplasia as many women suffer greatly with biopsies, and colposcopies and LEEP procedures. Not one woman I have ever treated is happy to have a colposcopy. And then of course there is prevention of anogenital HPV as we don’t have good screening methods for anal cancer.

      As HPV co infection is a requirement for cervical cancer reducing HPV infection, should be effective at preventing invasive disease. It sure prevents the precursor lesions.

      Your antibiotic analogy makes no sense. Having antibodies to one type of HPV is not in any way similar to using an antibiotic to treat and infection with a bacteria.

      What if the vaccine delays peak acquisition of HPV? Although studies tell us most women get HPV in their teens and twenties (80% have it by the time they graduate college), so the risk of getting a new HPV infection in your 40s and 50s is pretty low. But say for the sake of argument that the vaccine simply delays cervical pre cancer from the 20s to the 50s. That would still be awesome. Would you rather have bits of your cervix hacked off (potentially affecting your fertility) in your 20s or in your 50s? And then of course there is the option of getting a booster shot. Many vaccines need them that’s not a sign of failure. That is why there is extensive post marketing surveillance and follow up. Perhaps we might find a booster is needed at 10 or 15 years, that doesn’t mean the vaccine is a failure.

      I have no idea why you would bring up suicide or any other medical condition for that matter. The presence of other medical conditions doesn’t mean we should halt research into preventing HPV infections nor stop vaccinating women against it.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | February 19, 2015, 1:04 pm
  18. …the newspaper is not an specialized publication of Medicine. So, anyone extremely criticizing it for its inexactitude is as wrong as the newspaper. One just don’t expect a newspaper to be the authority on every topic they cover. As simple as that. Social networks and blogs have worsen public opinion, worse than media itself.

    Posted by John Dow | March 3, 2015, 9:03 pm
    • Your comment makes absolutely no sense.

      Media have a duty to get their facts straight, they interview experts and they are supposed to know about bias, especially confirmation bias. Sensationalist media is how Andrew Wakefield got his platform.

      If you don’t like blogs, don;t read them.

      The rude part of your comment was edited out in case you were wondering.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | March 4, 2015, 12:34 am
  19. Great article, but I can’t help but sigh because I’m certain there are going to be at least a few people who read this and interpret it to mean that Jamba Juice shouldn’t be consumed during pregnancy.

    Posted by aj | May 12, 2015, 1:53 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: HPV and the Importance of Vaccination | Weird Sex Ed Blog - February 5, 2015

  2. Pingback: A Response to Heather Mallick's Column — Opined - February 7, 2015

  3. Pingback: Explaining Gardasil girls and HPV vaccine safety to the Toronto Star and Heather Mallick | Dr. Jen Gunter - February 9, 2015

  4. Pingback: The HPV vaccine - a virus speaks - Small But Kinda Mighty - February 9, 2015

  5. Pingback: The Other Vaccine Controversy · thewalrus.ca - February 9, 2015

  6. Pingback: The Toronto Star’s gift to the antivaccine movement | Science-Based Pharmacy - February 10, 2015

  7. Pingback: Toronto Star Bungles HPV Vaccine Science Then Bungles Response To Criticism | Prairie Dog - February 11, 2015

  8. Pingback: Cum porti o discutie fara sa… porti o discutie | lunguldrumpanadeparte - February 11, 2015

  9. Pingback: Toronto Star “did not give proper weight to science” in HPV vaccine article: public editor | Globalnews.ca - February 11, 2015

  10. Pingback: Food for Thought (Reading List) | Dispensing Health - February 21, 2015

  11. Pingback: Botched newspaper exposé of HPV vaccine’s ‘dark side’ reveals dark side of … – Daily Health Tips and Articles - February 25, 2015

  12. Pingback: Botched exposé of HPV vaccine’s ‘dark side’ reveals dark side of news business – Daily Health Tips and Articles - February 25, 2015

  13. Pingback: ‘We failed’ in presentation of HPV vaccine story, Star publisher says - People's News Now - March 6, 2015

  14. Pingback: Docs with Twitter Handles Bring National Attention to Outbreaks | Bankers Healthcare Group | BHG360˚ Blog - March 13, 2015

  15. Pingback: The Independent claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says The Independent is wrong. | Dr. Jen Gunter - June 1, 2015

  16. Pingback: A-T-On Encore Besoin Des Journalistes Scientifiques? (Trois Fois Oui) | /Blog - June 5, 2015

  17. Pingback: Bloggdask for grovt uansvarlig artikkel om HPV-vaksinen | SAKSYNT - June 25, 2015

  18. Pingback: Wall Street National | Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date - Wall Street National - July 15, 2015

  19. Pingback: Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date | PharmaLive - July 15, 2015

  20. Pingback: Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date | Equities Canada - July 17, 2015

  21. Pingback: Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina & other thoughts on 2015 | Dr. Jen Gunter - December 31, 2015

  22. Pingback: Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says the Toronto Star is wrong. – David Bruser - February 19, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Recent Tweets

%d bloggers like this: