The Baltimore Sun just published a letter on the HPV vaccine that one would generously describe as being full of twisted half-truths and setting a new low bar for submissions.
The piece, written by William Reichel and Emily Tarsell and entitled The HPV vaccine is neither safe nor effective, is apparently a response to a previous report in the newspaper that focused on low vaccine uptake in the Unites States.
The authors regurgitate the same anti-vaccine fallacies that appear in almost every bit of anti-HPV propaganda. Let’s go through them one by one:
- Claim: The HPV vaccine hasn’t been shown to prevent cancer. Fact: Infection with HPV is the cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine prevents HPV infection. A recent study from Australia shows the vaccine dramatically reduces high-grade dysplasia, which is a necessary precursor for cervical cancer. As it takes many years for a HPV infection to become cancer it will take a few more years to see a true reduction in cancer, but reducing the necessary precursor lesion is a huge step.
- Claim: There are more adverse events reported with the HPV versus other vaccines. Facts: This abuse of statistics is from the VAERS data set, which is raw data and heavily contaminated. The data set has actually been evaluated and not shown any spike in adverse events from the HPV vaccine. Multiple safety studies have been published and the data do not show a link between the HPV vaccine and serious adverse events, deaths, or permanent disabilities in females under 30 years of age as the authors claim. Studies have shown no link with blood clots, neurological disorders, autoimmune disorders, allergic reactions, or seizures.
- Claim: Japan removed funding for the HPV vaccine and stopped recommending it. Facts: In 2013 the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare suspended its recommendation for the HPV vaccine under pressure from anti-vaccine groups. The Vaccine Adverse Reactions Review Committee in Japan eventually investigated the concerns raised by the anti-vaccine groups and concluded that there was no evidence to suggest a causal association between the HPV vaccine and the reported adverse events after vaccination.While the ministry still doesn’t actively recommend the vaccine, the Japanese Pediatric Society does and it is still free of charge. By the way, Japan also made some changes to its rubella vaccination program and now they have congenital rubella! Translation, Japan’s vaccination program isn’t a model to emulate.
- Claim: Lawsuits have been filed for HPV related deaths. Facts: Filing of a lawsuit means nothing, anyone can file a lawsuit over anything spurious. James Woods is suing someone who insulted him on Twitter, I mean really.
- Claim: The Supreme Court of India is investigating the HPV vaccine. Facts: The India experience is in no way a reflection of the vaccine safety and what is happening there is a result of misunderstanding about vaccine monitoring and safety. The suspension of the HPV vaccine program in India is a tragedy and the authors should be ashamed of themselves for trotting that out as an example. One quarter of the global deaths from cervical cancer are women in India, over 70,000 a year.
- Claim: The European Medicines Agency is conducting an investigation of HPV injection adverse events. Facts: Medical agencies investigate claims of adverse events. That is what they do. The CDC is investigating claims all the time. This is called safety monitoring. As new claims arise, no matter how unlikely, they are investigated. There is ongoing safety monitoring in the United States because that is what we do after a vaccine comes to market, we keep studying it.
- Claim: Some studies have linked serious HPV vaccine adverse events to the aluminum adjuvant, which is a known neurotoxin. Facts: No credible research has linked the aluminum adjuvant in the HPV vaccine to adverse events. Aluminum has been used widely in vaccines for years and is found in the following vaccines: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria-tetanus-containing vaccines, Haemophilus influenzae type b. The dose of aluminum in the HPV vaccine is the same as many of these vaccines. If aluminum were the issue then these other vaccines should also have the same “safety signal” concerns as the HPV vaccine, yet the authors claim the VAERS data is skewed to the HPV vaccine. You can’t have it both ways. By the way, there is lots of aluminum in what we eat because it is in the soil. A breast-fed infant gets about 0.039 mg of aluminum a day and a baby fed soy formula gets 0.65 mg a day. The dose of aluminum in the HPV vaccine given to an 11 or 12-year-old is 0.225 mg. If the authors are worried about aluminum being a neurotoxin they are better served getting soy banned.
- Claim: The doctors who do not recommend the HPV vaccine are the ones who have done their research. Fact: The HPV vaccine is one of the most well-tested medications and has an incredible safety record. Doctors who think otherwise either don’t understand the science, haven’t read the studies, or have an agenda that does not align with evidence based medicine. The HPV vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organization, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Congress of OB/GYN, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, i.e. the experts.
- Claim: Pap smears prevent cancer. Fact: Pap smears detect pre-cancer and cancer and lead to painful procedures to try and prevent invasive cancer. Pap smears are a screening tool not a prevention tool. The prevention tool is the vaccine.
Here’s the truth about the HPV vaccine. More than 175 millions doses have been distributed world-wide. No credible study has linked the vaccine with adverse events beyond pain and redness at the injection site. This is one of the most widely tested medications.
In the United States as of 2014 there were 67 million doses of the vaccine given and 96 reports of death for the HPV vaccine on VAERS. Many deaths could not be further studied because there was not enough information included in the report to verify someone had actually died. In 47 of the reports, CDC verified that the person had died through review of medical records, autopsy reports, and death certificates. After careful review of every known case of death the CDC concluded there was no causal link to the Gardasil vaccine. There were also no vaccine-related deaths reported in prospective studies of the vaccine.
I understand that letters don’t necessarily reflect the editor’s opinion, but when people see this junk online it’s easy to confuse with real reporting. According to the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, “Allegations of harm from vaccination based on weak evidence can lead to real harm when, as a result, safe and effective vaccines cease to be used.” The Baltimore Sun in publishing this has contributed to this harm and has shown their standards for publication are dangerously low. If one girl or boy doesn’t get the HPV vaccine because their parent read this piece and later suffers from a HPV-related disease the Baltimore Sun will be at fault.
Fact, the HPV vaccine is safe. Fact, the HPV vaccine is effective.
The editor who let this go by should hang his or her head in shame.
*Update – September 15, 8 a.m. The Baltimore Sun contacted me to point out this is a letter not an Op Ed with the often used “we allow our readers a lot of latitude in letters.” I have corrected the piece to reflect that update.
I missed the “readers respond” at the top, and I bet I’m not the only one. It’s an awfully long letter that reads like an Op Ed so my points still stand. This is a major newspaper and this letter was sent to my by an anti vax person who wondered why the Baltimore Sun would publish it if it were not true.? Finally, would the Baltimore Sun publish a letter that claims point by point that the earth is flat and does not orbit around the sun? Unlikely.
When choosing letters, especially long ones, the idea that anything goes leads to false balance especially in our online world. Newspapers have enormous ability to sway the conversation and in my opinion publishing garbage, even in letter form, is harmful.
This now appears in online searches and adds to the air of credibility.