Media should take a closer look at HPV vaccine

  • Article by: NANCY HOKKANEN
  • Updated: September 25, 2011 - 7:46 PM

Photo: John Amis, Associated Press

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Whatever one's opinion of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, she has spotlighted a dirty little secret: the silent epidemic of vaccine injury, and its ongoing dismissal by government, industry, medical trade unions and media.

Journalists have adopted public health administrators' utilitarian "more is better" attitude toward vaccines. Commentators tout lives theoretically saved by vaccines, then fail to express concern for people disabled or killed by vaccines.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as of June 22, 2011, VAERS (the FDA's Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) received 18,727 reports of adverse events following Gardasil vaccination.

A total of 2,799 adverse events were classified as "Serious," including encephalopathy (brain damage); 98 deaths have been reported.

Dr. Scott Ratner, whose wife is also a physician, told CBS-TV that their daughter Amanda became severely ill after a shot of Gardasil. She changed from "a varsity lacrosse player ... to a chronically ill, steroid-dependent patient with autoimmune myofasciitis."

The CDC and medical groups deny evidence of mental retardation from Gardasil, yet the VAERS database contains 27 reported cases of encephalitis (brain inflammation) and seven cases of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis -- demyelinating brain and spinal cord disease -- following the HPV vaccine.

Unfortunately, the girls injured by HPV vaccines have little recourse, largely because their vaccine injuries are not investigated by the CDC. In addition, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is slow and contentious, and rejects most claims.

Despite so many consumer concerns, a bill to allow 12-year-olds to get the HPV vaccine without parents' consent is on the desk of California Gov. Jerry Brown. Few media outlets have reported on the myriad negative implications of this usurping of parental health care rights.

With global vaccine revenues expected to grow from $30 billion in 2010 to $52 billion in 2016 and almost no product protections available for vaccine consumers, media scrutiny of vaccines and public health administration is urgently needed more than ever.

Alison Bass, a journalism professor, science writer and Pulitzer Prize nominee, summarized these issues: "I wish the media would use this opportunity to explore the public health ramifications of allowing a drug manufacturer to aggressively target the wrong population for an expensive and possibly unnecessary vaccine."

The CDC and the media must stop blaming "coincidence" and start investigating vaccine injuries -- to put an end to adverse events, diminish consumer skepticism and demonstrate a humane care ethic.

Parents must be able to make informed choices on all medical decisions for their children, including vaccines. The statements by recent health leaders that there is "absolutely no scientific evidence of harm from the HPV vaccine" are simply false.

Consumers deserve far better from the people charged with protecting public health.

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Nancy Hokkanen is from the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota.

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