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Papers continue shameful coverage of vaccination death

September 30, 2009 7 Comments

I posted yesterday about the shameful reporting of the tragic death of a girl who died on the same day as getting the cervical cancer vaccine - and how, without any evidence of a link, the papers were giving the impression that the vaccine, which will save hundreds of lives a year, is unsafe.

So, how are the papers covering the news that, as the BBC news site puts it in its 3rd most important story:

  • "Cancer jab 'unlikely' death cause: A girl who died shortly after being given a cervical cancer vaccine had a 'serious underlying medical condition', an NHS Trust says"?

This list is in order of how irresponsible I judged them yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the worst offenders are still whipping up hysteria.

Let's be clear. The only reason parents are worried, boycotting the vaccine, and demanding suspensions of the vaccination program is because the media whipped up a storm with no evidence whatsoever.

Mail Online

Still scaremongering and putting lives at risk

The Mail is leading its website with "Health Trust claims cervical cancer jab girl could have been killed by 'underlying health condition'". But note the two caveats - claims and could. Also, it is still linking her death with the jab in the headline.

Immediately under this headline is a link to another story that says "Dr Richard Halvorsen: I'm not opposed to jabs but there are serious worries". There aren't - he's a scaremonger too.


Still scaremongering and putting lives at risk

Half way down the home page we have "Parents' revolt after girl dies in cancer jab horror".

The story does concede half way down that "it was most unlikely that the HPV vaccination was the cause of death". This doesn't quite tie in with cancer jab horror, does it? And they are only revolting because you, and the other papers, misled them.

The Mirror

Backtracked in a low-profile way

This led its front page with 'Jab death' yesterday. No sign of a follow up on the home page, although the main news page does lead with "Cervical cancer vaccine 'unlikely' to have killed girl".


Backtracked but published new misleading Q&A page

Three quarters of the way down the home page is "Cancer jab girl 'had health problem'".

It has another article on questions around the vaccine which asks "Haven't there been thousands of side effects".

The answer of "Yes. There have also been reports of deaths" is wholly misleading as it concedes that none of these deaths show any link to the vaccine.

And the 'reports' are just part of the monitoring of things that occur at around the same time. There are no reports which show that the vaccine is linked to any deaths.

The Sun

Explicit about no link

The home page has no coverage, but the main news page has a large headline near the top that says "Natalie wasn't killed by vaccine". This story is also featured in the top stories box.


Explicit about no link

The headline near the top of the home page is "Cancer jab 'was not to blame for girl's death'". The comments are frightening though ...


Fairly explicit about no link

Headline in the more news section says "Cervical cancer jab 'unlikely' to blame for death".

I have to ask, however, what the hell this is. Part of the Comment is free section, but highlighted high up on the Guardian's main cervical cancer page, it says "I had no truck with MMR fears, but the death of a schoolgirl given the HPV vaccine makes me hesitate".

Don't hesitate - don't contribute to encouraging others hesitating. Not having this vaccine puts your daughter's life at risk.


Explicit about no link

I had the Telegraph down as the least irresponsible coverage yesterday. Today, however, their 2nd most important story is "Cervical cancer vaccinations suspended" with "Cancer jab unlikely to have caused girl's death" in a much smaller font.

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  • Sue says:

    The Guardian's now changed the headline to
    "Schoolgirl who died after cervical cancer injection had medical condition", which is better... I think. "We were wrong about death/vacccine link" might have been preferable.

  • [...] we go again. Malcolm Coles argues that media reports are doing an MMR, this time with the cervical cancer vaccine: Let’s be clear. The only reason parents are [...]

  • Sally Beck says:

    Just one comment. I spoke directly to a scientist who worked on the vaccine programme who made this comment. "I understand from reports in the media that MHRA have received about 2,200 adverse reaction reports on HPV vaccines. It is generally accepted that spontaneous reporting systems (Yellow Cards for example) suffer approximately 90% under reporting based on the evidence that only about 10% of UK doctors ever complete a Yellow Card. This means that the actual number of HPV reports could be in excess of twenty thousand. These figures need checking but are, in any case, very alarming. Death occurring a matter of hours after a medical intervention has to be accepted as causal in the absence of convincing, serious alternative causes."

    If this girl had an underlying medical condition, it seems she was living perfectly happily with it until she received her HPV. More questions and answers are needed until anyone can conclude that the jab was or wasn't responsible.

    • Sally, thanks for commenting.

      The yellow card scheme also over-reports as the MHRA says: "Even if it is only a suspicion that a medicine or combination of medicines has caused a side effect, we ask patients and health professionals to send us a Yellow Card."

      Also, the sorts of side effects reported for this vaccine until now are headaches and rashes. These are not severe.

      I'm not saying that the vaccine didn't cause this girl's death. It's very sad either way. But the papers are implying a causal link when there is currently no evidence for one. This vaccine will save 00s of lives a year. Putting parents off allowing their children to take it is irresponsible when there is no evidence of any serious detriment from taking it but plenty of evidence that it will save lives.

      If it's shown that the vaccine did trigger an underlying health issue, then public health officials and parents (like me) will be in the position of having to balance risks.

      But this vaccine has, I believe, been given to 1.5 million poeple safely so far. I am in no way trying to weight one girl's life against that of several hundred others. But the rational choice - taken outside an atmosphere of hysteria - is for the vaccine program to continue.

      I am appalled at the statements I see in the comments sections of newspapers from worried parents saying they aren't letting their daughters have the vaccine. They are leaving them open to far higher risk.

  • [...] posted here and here about the newspapers stoking up fear about the cervical-cancer vaccination program in the [...]

  • [...] research the cervical cancer jab (in the tragic wake of a schoolgirl’s death) see a mass of negative and inaccurate information linking her death to the [...]

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