18 April 2009

The Daily Mail view on cervical cancer vaccines depends on where you live

For me, Ben Goldacre’s weekly Guardian column Bad Science is essential reading. This week he asks a pertinent question, to wit “Is it somehow possible that journalists wilfully misinterpret and ignore scientific evidence, in order to generate stories that reflect their own political and cultural prejudices?”

The issue is illustrated with reference to the Daily Mail and to a blog called The Lay Scientist.

Daily Mail in Britain

Last January the Mail reported on the deaths of two girls following the cervical cancer vaccination. Reading beyond the headline showed that the cause of death in either case “could not be identified”. According to the European Medicines Agency "No causal relationship has been established between the deaths of the young women and the administration of Gardasil” (the vaccine in question).

On 6 April, under the headline, How safe is the cervical cancer jab? Five teenagers reveal their alarming stories the Mail focused on the severe side effects experienced by these five girls and mentions that (according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority) 1,300 out of the 700,000 girls vaccinated in 2008.last year had officially reported an adverse reaction of any kind.

Although the article states that this “is a tiny proportion of the girls who have upped their protection against a dreadful disease” the thrust of both of these articles is to cast doubt in the minds of its readers about the safety of the vaccine.

Daily Mail in Ireland

Perversely the Daily Mail is campaigning vigorously in favour of the vaccine. On 29 January the Mail published an article under the headline Join the Irish Daily Mail's cervical cancer vaccination campaign today The Mail called on the Irish Government to reverse its decision to axe its cervical cancer vaccination programme stating that the vaccine combined with the recently rolled out cervical cancer screening programme would cut deaths by 80 per cent.

Goldacre’s jaundiced view is that in Britain the Daily Mail raises questions about cervical cancer vaccine because it is about a government promoting promiscuity (therefore it causes paralysis and other symptoms); in Ireland the vaccine is withheld by penny-pinchers, so it is a lifesaver. I can’t help feel that there is some truth in his take on the different approaches in Britain and Ireland. After all how often do papers manipulate facts (scientific or otherwise) in accordance with their own political affiliations? The Guardian and Observer are of course not exempt from this either.

Ah well, at least the Mail does not describe the vaccine as “Labour’s new sex jab for schoolgirls” as the Express does...


Ardent said...

"Is it somehow possible that journalists wilfully misinterpret and ignore scientific evidence, in order to generate stories that reflect their own political and cultural prejudices?”

My question would be ... Is it somehow possible that governments ignore scientific evidence regarding vaccines and are willing to finance and administer these mercury laden inoculations to the public because governments are receiving enormous financial handouts from pharmaceutical companies for their willingness to take part in a plan where pharmaceutical companies make exorbitant amounts of profi?

jmb said...

This is a decision I am glad I do not have to make for a daughter but my daughter will have to make it for hers in the near future. The push in the USA is enormous as Merck lobbied to have states make it mandatory.

Too many questions remain unanswered about this vaccine, its real efficacy and the length of its immunity, let alone its side effects.

jams o donnell said...

I would not say that newspapers are alone in such matters Ardent!

I agree that there are questions about the vacine jmb. Still I find it bizarre that the same paper can be pro- and tending to anti- depending on loaction

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thankfully, I don't read the newspapers each time my GP decides to jab me with something or prescribes a new pill.

But I listen to what SWMBO and her girlfriends have to say on the subject. The only problem with this is that I immediately forget what it was about...

jams o donnell said...

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss my friend!