Here’s the story. Following on from their recent scoop wherein the Daily Mail informed us of “the most depressing day in HISTORY” (guess who provided the equation – go on guess), the intrepid reporters at the Daily Fail have now run a story about a young child who, two days after receiving the MMR vaccine, began to limp and fall over, sadly losing the ability to walk. Note that the Fail report that, while “Doctors are baffled by her mystery condition and continue to carry out tests to diagnose it and search for a way forward”, “they have told Melody’s mother Alicia Ellis, 25, there is no reason to believe the MMR vaccine has anything to do with her condition.” [My italics.] The report then goes on to state that “Miss Ellis is convinced it is the only logical explanation and there could be a connection to a neurological problem she had as a newborn baby.” Despite Doctors stating that there is no reason to believe the vaccine having anything to do with the condition, the Fail have gone on to put doubt into the minds of readers by putting the emphasis on Miss Ellis’s opinion that the vaccine was responsible and (possibly worse) headlining the piece “Six months after the MMR jab… a bubbly little girl now struggles to speak, walk and feed herself”. This is sensationalist reporting of a purported link between MMR and a regressive condition and it is irresponsible of the Fail to report the story in this manner when they must be aware of how the story will be received by their readers.*
The girl is reported to have “suffered some brain damage after she picked up a serious herpes virus at two-weeks of age. The tiny baby was seriously ill in hospital and was close to death. Doctors feared she would suffer from developmental problems as a result, but to their amazement she made a complete recovery and grew up as a normal, healthy little girl.” It strikes me that with developmental problems having been predicted by Doctors to occur as a result of the infection with this virus**, it is (at the very least) overly speculative and irresponsible to run a story that attempts to link MMR with the girl’s condition when Doctors have stated that there is no reason to do so. The Fail, apparently, know better than Doctors when it comes to medical matters. Which is pretty much a recurring theme with them. So much so that the Fail is also known by some as “The People’s Medical Journal”. It is not only the journalists at this particular newspaper who seem to enjoy this fantasy of being sufficiently medically qualified to judge whether the pronouncments of Doctors have validity or not but the Fail does seem to manage to promote this fantasy more often than other publications.
The piece ends with “[t]he MMR vaccine has been surrounded by controversy, amid claims there could be a link to autism. The NHS and the World Health Organisation both recommend the MMR jab and say it is safe.” This is what passes for balance in the mainstream media. Giving equal space to both sides – whether they are equally valid arguments or whether one side of the argument relies on discredited research and anecdotal evidence and the other side relies upon research that still stands. [See this pdf for more on the evidence on MMR and autism.]
*Later in the story, in fact, the Fail refer to “Safety fears [resulting] in some parents boycotting MMR over a possible link with autism and bowel disease following a controversial 1998 study by Dr Andrew Wakefield and colleagues published in the medical journal The Lancet.” [For “controversial” read “discredited”, and for “safety fears” read “scaremongering by rags like the Daily Fail”.]
**There is a paper (pdf) here that has more on “Long term neurological outcome of herpes encephalitis”. This may be relevant to the Fail story:
In 10 patients neurological sequelae were observed, including cognitive dysfunction with IQ scores less than 70 (n = 4), personality changes (n = 4), speech abnormalities (n = 2), motor skill disturbances (n = 5), and epileptic seizures (n = 4). All these sequelae were observed during the first year of follow up, except for two patients who presented with epileptic disorders four and five years, respectively after the HSE.
Hat tip: everyone on teh Bad Science forums that has discussed this report. Northern Boy wrote that: “After the harm that they caused with the Wakefield story, you’d hope that they would actually not splash uninformed speculation across their pages, when they now know the likely effect”; which is pretty much the point I am trying to make with this post. Except he was able to make the point in one sentence and it looks like I’ll be posting somewhere in the region of 750-1000 words. RS and DMcILROY raised the issues of herpes encephalitis and neurological sequalae. Forum discussion.
Note: I am not ruling out any link between the vaccine and the young girl’s condition, I am merely pointing out that it is highly irresponsible of the Fail to promote this alleged link and recommence the media’s moronic scaremongering over viruses. Highly irresponsible yet, sadly, not unexpected.