After the What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine’s October issue was published, Margaret McCartney, a GP, had an article in the BMJ criticising it. Some of the criticism related to Lynne McTaggart’s commentary on the HPV vaccines (something I wrote about here). McCartney took issue with the comments regarding deaths following HPV vaccination, stating that “to suggest that it has led to death is alarmist and does not reflect or explain the evidence collated by the Food and Drug Administration”. McTaggart has now responded to McCartney’s article in a blog post.
If the credibility of the participants in discussions of vaccination is something you’re interested in, it’s perhaps worth noting that while Dr Diane Harper* (acknowledged even by those who are anti-vaccine as an expert in this area – in fact McTaggart herself describes Harper as an “HPV expert” in her WDDTY article and happily quotes her position on marketing of the HPV vaccines) believes the vaccines to be generally safe, journalist Lynne McTaggart apparently does not.
I know – it’s hard to know who to believe, isn’t it? Perhaps taking a look at the evidence would help to clarify the situation. McTaggart seems to think it’s not possible to do a credible review of her article without addressing one particular paper and complains that this, “the most important piece of supporting data” for her article, was ignored by McCartney:
Since she is another sort of ‘champion,’ this time of evidence-based medicine, I sent her a evidence-based review of all the literature about Gardasil by a team of University of British Columbia doctors, who’d been prompted to do such a review after being confronted with so many cases of girls who’d suddenly developed strange symptoms after getting this jab.
They came to the same conclusions I did, that the vaccine’s effectiveness was unproven, that data had been misinterpreted, that the safety profile was suspect and that it was contrary to growing evidence that from vaccine surveillance databases and case studies linking the vaccine to deaths and permanent disabilities.
As it was the most important piece of supporting data for my article and the review was very thorough, I recommended that she read it before making comment on my article.
When I checked to see if she got the article, she replied that she had. ‘However the focus for my article will be on your magazine,’ (SIC) she wrote.
On Monday, I wrote to her and her editor to ask how they might possibly do a credible review of my magazine without reviewing some of the most important supporting data.
I’m still waiting for their response. The article came out attacking the Gardasil statistics with no mention of the review data, and cherrypicked a few other small studies to take issue with.
Well, I won’t ignore it. I had a look to see if I could find a link to this vitally important data in McTaggart’s post. Unfortunately, there was no link so I dug out my copy of the HPV article I criticised earlier this month and found that at the end of the article there was a reference to a paper published in the Annals of Medicine. This was a review and the paper’s corresponding author was Lucija Tomljenovic, Neural Dynamics Research Group, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia. I think this is the paper McTaggart is referring to. You can see the abstract here. I found a PDF of the full text on Google Scholar and took a look.
The authors refer to a trial in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and state that it was “terminated in April 2010, following six post-HPV vaccination deaths”. That would be the trial reported on here:
Six deaths, four in Andhra Pradesh and two in Gujarat, have been reported from among the 24,705 children administered these vaccines, he said. The causes of the deaths were determined as “viral fever, drowning, suicide, severe anaemia with malaria and suspected snake bite.”
Do they think that the HPV vaccine can cause drowning, snake bite and suicide? One would hope not. Perhaps they somehow simply managed to miss that rather important information on the actual causes of the deaths? Or perhaps their 2011 paper was actually written before the 2010 news report I linked to? Let’s be generous and assume that to be the case.
They also refer to VAERS data and the reporting of 68 deaths following HPV vaccination. Unlike McTaggart, the authors do at least point out that a VAERS report “does not by itself prove that the vaccine caused an ADR”. Here’s what the VAERS website says about their data:
When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event. [...] A report to VAERS generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described. It only confirms that the reported event occurred sometime after vaccine was given. No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report. VAERS accepts all reports without judging whether the event was caused by the vaccine.
If you want to know what that can mean in practice, here is a post on Left Brain / Right Brain that describes the process of submitting a report to VAERS and refers to the story of Jim Laidler (who submitted a report that the flu vaccine had turned him into the Incredible Hulk). The post backs up Laidler’s story, pointing out that “Anyone can enter any data into VAERS. Even someone from another country.” In this example, what the blogger told VAERS was that his daughter had been turned into Wonder Woman. VAERS really does accept all reports without judging whether the event was caused by the vaccine.
What about the reported deaths following HPV vaccination that were reported to VAERS? Well, the CDC has a summary of a CDC-FDA report analyzing adverse events following human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine administration from June 2006 through December 2008. Thirty two deaths had been reported by that point.
The 32 death reports were reviewed and there was no common pattern to the deaths that would suggest they were caused by the vaccine. In cases where there was an autopsy, death certificate, or medical records, the cause of death could be explained by factors other than the vaccine. Some causes of death determined to date include diabetes, viral illness, illicit drug use, and heart failure.
In cases where information was available, the cause of death could be explained by factors other than the vaccine. This information was available to Tomljenovic and Shaw but it was not referred to in their paper. They have commented on deaths reported following HPV vaccination but not made any reference to the fact that, where there was a known cause, these deaths were due not to vaccination but to things like diabetes, drug use, drowning and snake bite.
I looked up the references cited by McTaggart at the end of her article and can’t find any others that come from “University of British Columbia doctors”, so this review would seem to be “the most important piece of supporting data” for her article. Having read it, I stand by my criticisms of McTaggart’s article on HPV vaccination and I think Dr McCartney is quite right to describe the WDDTY article as alarmist.
*While Dr Diane Harper’s views on the marketing of HPV vaccines are often quoted approvingly by the anti-vaccine scaremongers, her views on the vaccines themselves are not. She “fully supports the HPV vaccines” and believes that “in general they are safe in most women”.
Just out of interest, here are Tomljenovic’s publications on Pubmed. Most have CA Shaw as a co-author and the papers tend to be on aluminium adjuvants or the HPV vaccines. The article titled “Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevalence of autism?” was reviewed by Orac here. Orac seems… unimpressed.