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...