I really hope Express Watch doesn’t turn into a weekly feature here. I may have to just stop reading entirely, which makes me sad.
But this week’s feature story is the fourth poorly-researched hit piece in a row, and it’s making my blood boil. The HPV vaccine isn’t my beat, but local media sort of is, and I was floored by the level of irresponsibility here.
If you didn’t read “One Less,” don’t bother. It’s mostly about a young college student who died from a pulmonary embolism a few weeks after receiving her first dose of Gardasil, Merck’s new HPV vaccine. Throughout the story, the author inserts narratives from young women detailing their adverse reactions to taking the vaccine – pain, numbness, in one case, hallucinations. Although the story includes the occasional reassurances from researchers about the vaccine’s safety, there is no testimony from any young women who have taken the vaccine without complication, and the clear message is that the Gardasil is dangerous, and if you take it, you are likely to faint, have seizures, develop Guillian-Barre, and maybe even die.
The story relies on nothing more than idle speculation to make its case. There is literally not a single medical professional quoted in the entire article who raises concerns about the side effects of Gardasil. The story’s primary source for its assertion that Gardasil killed this girl is her mother. The story’s only other source for claims about adverse effects of the drug is a Washington-based conservative think tank.
Now, just because Judicial Watch is a right-wing pressure group doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily wrong about everything. But at the very least it’s worth noting that literally the only semi-official support you can provide for the thesis that Gardasil is dangerous comes from an organization that also advocated against the FDA’s approval of selling Plan B over the counter, the FDA’s approval of RU-486, and for the “partial-birth abortion ban” (PDF!).
But according to researcher Dee Grothe of the Washington foundation Judicial Watch, who read nearly 4,000 of the reports, the remaining 25 percent involved more serious issues, including paralysis, convulsions, and circulatory problems. Grothe says the surveillance database now contains eleven Gardasil-related death reports, including the story of a woman who died of a blood clot three hours after getting the vaccine and a healthy twelve-year-old who died in her sleep three weeks later.
11 deaths is tragic. And obviously they all warrant investigation. But until they are investigated, there is no logical reason to draw a causal connection between Gardasil and the deaths of 11 people who have taken the drug when more than 5 million doses (PDF!) have been distributed.
But the story keeps pushing:
But why would a healthy nineteen-year-old girl suddenly throw a huge clot?
I don’t know. Maybe because she was taking a medication that has an extensively documented history of causing blood clots and pulmonary embolism? The reporter acknowledges this, but then concludes the sections with:
But at Judicial Watch, Grothe shares Sonner’s fears. “I saw enough cardio-related reactions,” she said. “So it is a little bit concerning, especially if used with birth control, which also has whole range of side effects.”
Okay. It’s a little unfair to say that Grothe is the only source cited in the story. The author also cites a trashy Australian tabloid TV show:
According to the Australian television news magazine Today Tonight, the reactions include seizures and paralysis.
Look, I am far from qualified to make any judgments about the safety of Gardasil. And I’m incredibly sympathetic to anyone who has had to deal with unanticipated adverse reactions to prescription medication, having been a victim of a horrible one myself in the past. Truth be told, I’m actually one of those crazy people who doesn’t trust doctors or medicine or drug companies for no good reason. Of course, I’m allowed to go about my own life irrationally fearing the entire medical profession and it isn’t going to hurt anyone except for me.
But it is downright unethical for a widely circulated newspaper to run lengthy fearmongering stories about life saving drugs in the absence of a shred of evidence or medical opinion supporting those claims. How many women are going to read this story and not get the shot, or not let their daughters get the shot as a result? Every single one of those girls will now be at risk for 100% preventable cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. It’s disgusting.
And on top of everything else, I have to say that it makes me really sad to see the Express so wanting for content that they’re reduced to recycling stories that ran weeks ago in other publications.