Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Decisions Decisions

Well the Daily Mail, having not done enough damage with the MMR hoax, has decided to run with the tragic story of Natalie Morton, who died a few hours after receiving the HPV vaccination to reduce her chances of getting cervical cancer. This is a vaccination that has already been administered to an estimated 1.5 million school girls in a vaccination programme that allows people to opt out. The cause of Natalie's death has yet to be ascertained but there are a number of possibilities.

1) She just died. It's awful, but otherwise healthy people do just die. Sudden Adult Death Syndrome is a genuine killer, and more can be found out about it here. A study in 2007 entitled Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS) - a national survey of sudden unexplained cardiac death estimated about 500 deaths a year from the condition.
2) The vaccine batch administered at the school was in some way contaminated, and the contamination led to the fatality. This is being looked into. Other girls at the school experienced minor adverse reactions, such as nausea, and whereas these reactions have been recorded in relation to the HPV vaccine, the link is suggestive enough for the theory to carry some weight. The proof here will be in the analysis of the vaccine itself.
3) The vaccine was not contaminated, Natalie reacted badly to it and died.

As it currently stands, we do not know which of the three possibilities, if any, is correct, so let's have a look instead at the implications.

1) This is the clearest. The death was not preventable in any meaningful way. No further, similar deaths are likely in the next few days.
2) The particular batch of vaccines is now not in use pending analysis. No further similar deaths are likely in the next few days.
3) Out of 1.5 million people given the vaccine, one has had a fatal reaction to it. Further similar deaths are extremely unlikely in the next few days.

So really the most responsible thing a journalist could do would be to hold the story back until they had enough information to report on it correctly. Currently the story consists of uncertainty and panic. What are the implications of reporting that? People who would otherwise have received the vaccine will now not receive the vaccine. Some of these people may go on to suffer from cervical cancer as a result.

Much is said on the subject of vaccines about weighing risks and benefits, and it seems clear here that there was little benefit (beyond newspaper sales) and a great deal of risk involved in reporting this story.

For decent information on the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer, visit the following links:

1 comment:

  1. Yup, and in the radio this afternoon there is mention of parents withdrawing consent for their daughters to have the vaccine. Not only that, the Mail Online's comments on these stories are full of paranoid haters of modern medicine, one fool even claiming that vaccines never saved any lives, ever.


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