Following my recent post on the Daily Mail’s vaccine article by Dr Richard Halvorsen that served as my opening gambit as I try my hand at guest blogging over at Lay Science, I thought I’d blog my correspondence with the Daily Mail over their articles on vaccination.
Dear Sir or Madam,I am writing to you to express my concern regarding the Daily Mail’s coverage of vaccines.Here: link, there is an article that (among other things) claims that “campaigners are concerned about the ‘over-vaccination’ of children” which sounds suspiciously like a claim of “immune overload” to me. The World Health Organisation has a page on ‘immune overload’ here: link that Mail journalists might like to consult before writing articles that make reference to ‘immune overload’ claims. I was also concerned that the journalists who wrote the above article chose to quote Dr Richard Halvorsen and the JABS campaign group.Dr Richard Halvorsen and the JABS campaign group were also frequently quoted by the Daily Mail during the MMR scare, a scare which relied on a now discredited and partly-retracted paper by Andrew Wakefield along with unevidenced speculation from anti-vaccine campaigners – and was seemingly driven more by a distrust of the government rather than by the available evidence. Now that Wakefield’s research has been discredited and there is no longer a controversy over MMR being a cause of autism, we are left with a problematic increase in the incidence of measles that has led to a number of people suffering from complications – and has even led to deaths.Dr Halvorsen and JABS also turn up in this piece on the swine flu vaccine: link and the comment from the JABS spokesperson Jackie Fletcher (“The Government would not be anticipating this if they didn’t think there was a connection. What we’ve got is a massive guinea-pig trial.”) brings to mind the conspiracy theories and distrust of government that seemed to characterise the MMR scare.Having apparently solicited quotes from Dr Halvorsen and the JABS organisation on several occasions in the past and been provided with opinions that were at odds with the best available evidence, I am disappointed that the Daily Mail seemingly continues to consider Dr Halvorsen and JABS to be credible sources. The latest coverage, of the case of Natalie Morton, was reminiscent of the articles on MMR and other vaccines that could, I think frankly but fairly, be characterised as scaremongering and irresponsible. Jackie Fletcher’s call to “halt the vaccine programme immediately” must have seemed alarming to readers, and it seemed rather premature to me given that we had not been made aware of the cause of death. We now know that it is most unlikely that the death of Natalie Morton was linked in any way with the HPV vaccination, as she had a tumour that could have killed her at any time. I would also question the wisdom of allowing Dr Halvorsen to use the death of Natalie Morton as an example of the dangers of vaccination in a piece that attempted to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines: link.Articles about health matter. When a newspaper prints a story about the dangers of vacccination, its readers will take note. When a newspaper consistently prints stories on the dangers of vaccination then some readers may be inclined to decide not to vaccinate themselves or their children. When the facts do not support the articles printed, and the consequences can include serious complications and even death due to vaccine-preventable diseases then it becomes more serious. I believe that this is not just a matter of public health and safety that could cause serious illness and cost lives, I also believe that there is a moral aspect. Knowing what we do about the evidence regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, articles that have cast doubt on the efficacy and/or the safety of the hepatitis B, MMR, and HPV vaccines should be disowned by any newspaper that has a functioning moral compass and a respect for human life. Personally, I think the right thing to do would be for the Daily Mail to print in future articles on vaccination a clarifying note that corrects any misinformation, inaccuracies, or distortions that have appeared in the paper regarding vaccines. I also think that the Mail should perhaps reconsider where they source opinions for their articles on vaccination.Yours faithfully,James Cole