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Cervical cancer jab: Google fuelling unnecessary fears

October 1, 2009 8 Comments

I've posted here and here about the newspapers stoking up fear about the cervical-cancer vaccination program in the wake of one schoolgirl's death - despite there being no evidence her tragic case was anything to do with the vaccine (which saves 00s of lives a year - and it's now been announced she died of an preexisting tumour).

The news stories Google shows

The news stories Google shows

Anyone turning to Google to look into the issue is unlikely to be reassured. Although the results are generated algorithmically, Google's results are anti-jab. There is very little in the way of balance in the results, with a mixture of old and new scare stories, and only a couple of positive stories.

[I'm not suggesting Google should be fixing its results - the fault lies with the media for its slant on the story and the way that the negative fears are given more weight than the follow up stories which find no evidence of a link]

According to Google Insights, the most commonly searched-for term is 'Cervical cancer jab' with a 7 fold increase from the weekend to Tuesday (the latest day for which Google gives figures).

What Google's showing

Search for 'cervical cancer jab' today, Thursday, and you see:

News results at the top

  • Facts behind school cervical cancer jab? The death this week of 14-year-old schoolgirl Natalie Morton just hours after receiving the cervical cancer jab sent shockwaves around the ... [The Sun]
  • Cervical cancer jab is 'harming a generation' says mum []
  • Dr Richard Halvorsen: I'm not opposed to jabs but there are serious worries [Daily Mail]

The first story is a short, cursory Q&A which doesn't help much.

The second news result is a scare story linking the vaccination to paralysis with no evidence.

The third one is a Daily Mail anti-vaccine story with little basis in fact, and which hasn't been updated in the light of evidence that the vaccination didn't cause the girl's death.

Web results

Under the news results are the web ones. Here are the top 10 (I've shown the headline, any date Google shows and the source).

  • How safe is the cervical cancer jab? Five teenagers reveal their alarming stories - 5 Apr 2009 - Daily Mail
  • Revealed: The serious health concerns about the cervical cancer jab - 2 Sep 2008 - Daily Mail
  • Girl dies after cervical cancer jab - Yahoo! News UK
  • Cancer jab alert after girl dies - 29 Sep 2009 - BBC news
  • Cervical cancer jab 'in a year' - 7 Oct 2005 - BBC news
  • Schoolgirl dies after being given cervical cancer jab - 29 Sep 2009 - Times
  • Mystery illness paralyses girl given cervical cancer jab - 14 Dec 2008 - Times
  • Two girls die after cervical cancer jab - 25 Jan 2008 - Telegraph
  • Cervical cancer vaccinations postponed - 29 Sep 2009 - Guardian
  • Most mums want cervical cancer jabs for their daughters - 24 Jan 2007 - Cancer Research UK

Anyone responsible for the vaccination program, or who is concerned about cancer deaths, must be in despair at this. Faced with this choice of things to read, it's no surprise that many of the comments on newspaper sites are from parents saying they are pulling their daughters out of the program.

NHS advert

The NHS is attempting to provide some balance with a paid-for advert at the top of the page. But the copy is too generic to encourage that many clickthroughs.

Cervical Cancer Jab For more information on the HPV jab Visit the official NHS site here.

I suspect many people won't trust the official site, and the ad doesn't address the current scare.

If you are covering this story, try to provide a link the NHS site. Maybe with a bit of SEO we can get the NHS page in the top 10 results ...

You might also like
  1. Cervical cancer vaccine: Please – here’s how YOU can help us inject some sense into Google’s results
  2. Cervical cancer jab: how the newspapers have learned nothing from MMR
  3. Papers continue shameful coverage of vaccination death
  4. Google street view: which news sites linked?,
  5. Google adds shared by number to Google news results

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  • Just to let you know that the marketing team here at NHS Choices are aware of the adwords campaign wording and are looking to make it more appropriate given the current scare. We've got lots of content on cervical cancer & HPV, but nothing 'newsy' at the moment which would supplant the newspaper headlines.
    The best page to push from an SEO perspective would be this one on NHS Choices - - good video on it too - anything that can be done to bump this up would be great!
    NHS Choices

  • Cliff says:

    I found the backtracking interesting.

    This article by the daily mail

    Changed their headline from:

    Cancer jabs programme is 'mass experiment' says researcher as health officials insist vaccine teenagers is safe


    Cervical cancer jab girl died from unrelated chest tumour as researcher calls vaccine plan a 'mass experiment'

    Changed their angle, but still made the researcher look like an idiot

    This Mail article

    Had the headline
    Cervical cancer vaccine programme in chaos after death of schoolgirl 14 hours after jab

    but changed it to

    Health Trust claims cervical cancer jab girl could have been killed by 'underlying health condition'

  • [...] pointed out that any concerned parents searching Google for information on the cervical cancer jab (in the [...]

  • Adam says:

    I think the public have every right to be concerned. I live in Coventry and know that another girl at the same school had problems as well. The authorities should halt the jabs until they get the findings back from the labs regarding the batch of vaccines. Natalie was said to have a malignant tumour but she did die after taking the vaccine and that's a fact.

  • [...] pointed out that any concerned parents searching Google for information on the cervical cancer jab (in the [...]

  • Hello bloggers

    I appreciate that you take issue with Dr Halvorsen. But can I point that what he says is based on 6 years study of the relevant medical research for his book The Truth about Vaccines, and over 25 years as a GP. In the interest of science, and fairness, you may want to read his full arguments first. He is one of the few people who has reservations about vaccines that pro-vaccine experts are happy to debate the issue with.

    Kind regards, Karen Woods
    Gibson Square Publishers

    • Thanks Karen. The thing that most worried me about Dr Halvorsen is that in his article he said "Yet the sudden death of Coventry schoolgirl Natalie Morton after a jab against cervical cancer highlights the reality that vaccination programmes are not without their risks ....
      The tragic irony for Natalie was that the injection may have triggered a reaction far more lethal than any future, distant threat of a comparatively rare disease."

      This is all rubbish. The injection did no such thing, and her death reveals nothing about the 'risks' of this vaccine. Shouldn't a scientist wait for some evidence before writing this sort of stuff?

      Also, I note on his website that he's into homeopathy. Not very scientific is it?

      Plus I see that he says: "I offer the single vaccines as an alternative to the MMR vaccine. I do not insist that children have all three, rather I encourage parents to make their own informed decision on what vaccines they wish to offer their child."

      When the MMR vaccine is safe and saves lives, isn't this a bit odd too?

      Finally, let's not go into the fact that his article for the Mail says: "In 2005, just 911 women died of the disease" as words fail me at this point.

    • Also, I notice that in yesterday's Express story claiming the vaccine is in fact deadlier than cervical cancer, Dr Richard Halvorsen is quoted as saying: “One minute Natalie is an apparently healthy girl, she has the vaccine and within two hours she is dead. We are told she had a terrible cancer inside her that killed her but this is implausible. If you have cancer you have symptoms. Clearly public health doctors are desperate to turn the debate away from the vaccine as a possible cause.”

      Is he suggesting that they lied about the post mortem to cover something up? Does he have any evidence of this?

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