Another Sunday Express Article On Vaccination

January 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Media) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This article (frozen here and available as a PDF here, for those who would prefer not to reward the Express by clicking the link to their website) has been written by Lucy Johnston and concerns an ingredient in the flu vaccine.

First, let’s take a quick look at some of Johnston’s previous articles on vaccination. There was the infamous piece on HPV and Natalie Morton. There was also an article on Swine Flu, Squalene and Gulf War Syndrome.

In the latter article, Johnston claimed that the anthrax vaccines given to soldiers contained squalene, which had allegedly led to cases of Gulf War Syndrome. As the World Health Organisation have pointed out, squalene was not added to the vaccines administered to these veterans, nor was it used in the manufacturing process.

I contacted the Express at the time (23rd October 2009) to point this out to them and asked them to correct the headline, and the text in the article, to reflect the truth. As of today, the article and headline are still inaccurate and misleading (PDF).

There are two problems here: Lucy Johnston’s apparent propensity for writing inaccurate and misleading articles on vaccination; and the Daily Express’s failure to correct false statements that they have published. Not only can Lucy Johnston not be bothered to fact-check, the Daily Express’s editorial team cannot be bothered to amend articles when someone has done the fact-checking for them.

Onto today’s story…

The article is headlined “CHILD FLU VACCINE CONTAINS MERCURY” and the first paragraph includes the words “controversial” and “poisonous”, clearly setting the tone.

The Express go to Dr Richard Halvorsen and Jackie Fletcher of Jabs for quotes. In fact, the story appears to be pretty much based on Halvorsen’s comments. Halvorsen says:

“Thimerosal is an extremely toxic substance and known poison to the brain.

“There is enough convincing evidence linking thimerosal with developmental disorders and learning problems in individual children to warrant its removal from any childhood vaccine.

“It is irresponsible to administer a jab with little proven benefit which contains potentially harmful toxic substances.”

This is rubbish. I’ve written before about Dr Richard Halvorsen being wrong about mercury and vaccines as part of a series of posts on his book “The Truth About Vaccines”. I wouldn’t dream of asking Halvorsen’s opinion on mercury and vaccines. Not when I can get answers from the CDC. Or can find papers like this or this. The following paper, in particular, should be read by Lucy Johnston and those who hold senior positions at the Express: link.

The calculations of exposure to ethylmercury that so concerned the Geiers and led to their scaremongering conclusions that have been parrotted in recent times by anti-vaccine campaigners were based on “a misinterpretation of the EPA and FDA guidelines“. Here are the authors’ conclusions:

Studies do not demonstrate a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and ASD, and the pharmacokinetics of ethylmercury make such an association less likely. Epidemiologic studies that support a link demonstrated significant design flaws that invalidate their conclusions. Evidence does not support a change in the standard of practice with regard to administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines in areas of the world where they are used.

The levels of ethylmercury to which the vaccinated are exposed are safe. Ethylmercury is different to the more dangerous methylmercury – for one thing, it is quickly excreted from the body.

While the article does contain caveats regarding the MHRA and Department of Health positions (there is no evidence of harm from vaccines containing thimerosal), the overall tone is quite clearly anti-vaccine and scaremongering. Lucy Johnston and the Express’s editors should be ashamed of themselves.

I’ve written to the Express again about their propensity for publishing scaremongering articles about vaccination:

I was concerned to see that, yet again, the Express has published an article that scaremongers about vaccination and fails to accurately represent the current evidence.

I believe that such articles serve only to undermine an important public health initiative.

See also

Minority Thought on today’s story; Ben Goldacre on the HPV story. For more on thiomersal/thimerosal and vaccines, see here.


  1. Zeno said,

    Excellent. Another case of false balance.

    I wonder if a mention of an Andrew Wakefield and the damage he and the media did would get through the Express’ thick skulls?

  2. Tweets that mention Another Sunday Express Article On Vaccination « Stuff And Nonsense -- said,

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James and others. James said: Blogged: Lucy Johnston strikes again: (on thimerosal in the flu vaccine) #vaxfacts #Express […]

  3. Neuroskeptic said,

    It’s interesting that the British press’s traditional ambivalence to vaccines (and scepticism of the risks of swine flu) has disappeared in the past week or so replaced with angry protests of “Give us more flu jabs!!!!!1111” and SWINE FLU KILLS LOADS headlines – flu of course kills loads every year, but they’ve only just noticed.

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