Independent on Sunday’s HPV Scare Story

May 31, 2015 at 4:53 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Media, Vaccines) (, , )

The Independent on Sunday apparently thought it would be a good idea to publish a front page story scaremongering about the HPV vaccine. Some elements remind me of previous unfounded vaccine scares promoted by the press and the anti-vaccine movement.

Here’s the article. The bases for the article appear to be: adverse reaction reports taken out of context; the anecdote of a patient; and a review of case series and anecdotal reports.

Adverse events reports – misusing these figures is the kind of thing anti-vaccine campaigners do. As the IoS eventually point out (in paragraphs 22-24 right at the bottom of the article – this is a known problem), the MHRA make the point that:

The reporting rate of suspected side effects, which are not necessarily proven to be caused by the vaccine, is influenced by many factors and expected to differ across vaccines. The greater number of reports for HPV vaccine does not necessarily mean that it is any less safe than other vaccines.

The Americans have the VAERS database, and like the MHRA emphasise that reports do not prove a causal connection. They have to do this, because people who are anti-vaccine keep wrongly suggesting otherwise. There is some discussion of HPV notifications in this CDC report. There is no mention (in a review of 25,000 reports following 67 million doses of the vaccine) of the postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome that the IoS refers to.

Case series – do Paul Gallagher and his editor Lisa Markwell understand what a case series is and where it would be placed in a hierarchy of evidence? How about case reports, or anecdotal reports published on anti-vaccine websites?

Gallagher seems to write mostly on crime with a few articles on the food and drink industry and the odd piece on health. Markwell’s biography describes her as a foodie and refers to restaurant review which suggests her specialist subject is food and drink.

Would either of them remember that the whooping cough vaccine and MMR vaccine scares began with case series reports from mavericks and were stoked by the mainstream media? Do the pair fully understand the damage that these stories can do? I wondered before whether “don’t get too excited about case series” was a lesson that should have been taken from the Wakefield and Wilson cases. I also identified “don’t take anything newspapers publish on health too seriously” as a possible lesson for us to learn from media coverage of vaccine scares.

Would either of them spot the warning signs in this review? The author, Manuel Martinez-Lavin, links to the Sanevax website and cites the Geiers. They speculate. They refer to a decision not to recommend the vaccine as a “moratorium on HPV vaccination”. A poster on the Bad Science forum managed to spot some issues with the paper that might perhaps have passed the IoS journalists by. This is from his summary of the paper: “it’s a shite paper, based on assumptions not supported by any evidence base, poor choices of references, and the ignoring of pretty much the entire evidence base of safety surrounding HPV…”

If Gallagher and Markwell are ignorant of the place of case series and case reports, ignorant of the misuse of adverse events reports, and ignorant of the history of vaccine scares I’d suggest they have been careless and foolish to publish this front page scaremongering. If they’re not so ignorant, then they’ve been quite cynically irresponsible. Either way, they should be embarrassed.

[Edit, 01/06/2015: Dr Jen Gunter has now written a post on this, which is worth reading.]


  1. fragmeister12 said,

    Reblogged this on wattsspawn.

  2. Kate said,

    My son is the same age as Emily in the article, and has a very similar sounding illness. He’s not had the HPV vaccine. I wonder what the sex ratio is with these type of symptoms?

  3. jdc325 said,

    That’s a good question Kate.

    This page says: “Anyone at any age can develop POTS, but the majority of individuals affected (between 75 and 80 percent) are women between the ages of 15 to 50 years of age.”

  4. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for helping to spread the word, fragmeister.

  5. steve479Steve Hinks said,

    I have the MHRA official SAE rates for the following UK national programme vaccines:
    Menitorix (MenC/Hib combination)
    Prevenar 13 (Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine)
    Pediacel and Infanrix IPV HIB (DTaP/IPV/Hib)
    MMR Vaccine
    Meningitis C Vaccine
    Repevax / Infanrix IPV (d/DTaP/IPV)
    Revaxis (dT/IPV)

    and of course HPV vaccine

    All of the regular ones have SAE of between 2 – 5/100,000, MMR is 8/100,000 whereas HPV vaccine is 108/100,000. I don’t need to look at control groups other than these to see that HPV vaccine is a ‘flier’ /rogue.

  6. steve479Steve Hinks said,

    ALL vaccines are SAFE and EFFECTIVE! They have been approved following clinical trials.

    Then why were the following withdrawn?

    Trivirix MMR vaccine made by GSK Canada caused meningitis, Plusrix MMR vaccine made by GSK UK caused meningitis, Immravax MMR vvacine made by Aventis Pasteur caused meningitis,
    Rotashield rotavirus vaccine made by Wyeth Lederle caused bowel obstruction,
    Polio vaccine made by Medeva caused vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease,
    Lymerix Lyme disease vaccine made by GSK caused Lyme disease and severe arthritis,
    BCG vaccine made by PowderJect did not meet the end-of-shelf-life specification,
    Imovax hepatitis B, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type B made by Aventis Pasteur tested positive for the live vaccine, Hexovac diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough vaccine made by Sanofi Merck provided inadequate protection,
    PedvaxHIB haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine made by Merck was contaminated with a bacteria called Bacillus cereus,
    Comvax haemophilius B and hepatitis B vaccine made by Merck was contaminated with a bacteria called Bacillus cereus,
    Menjugate meningitis C vaccine made by Novartis was infected with bacteria Staphylococcus aureus,
    Fluvax flu vaccine made by CSL caused seizures,
    Preflucel flu vaccine made by Baxter Healthcare caused fatigue, muscle pain and headaches and
    Pandemrix flu vaccine made by GSK caused narcolepsy.

    But for now the HPV vaccines are still considered safe!

    I am not anti-vaccine, I am:
    – anti unsafe vaccines
    – angry that the DoH/MHRA/JCVI/NHS conceal the truth
    – angry that the DoH/NHS don’t allow parents to make an INFORMED choice.
    – angry that the DoH/NHS tell blatant lies to try to blame parents, refer them to Social Services and accuse them of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy (now known as Fabricated or Induced Illness).
    – angry that vaccine injured girls are often eventually diagnosed with CFS/ME which is a ‘waste-bucket’ diagnosis.
    – angry that the NHS consider CFS/ME to be a psychiatric illness when true M.E. is a serious multi-organ medical condition.
    – ANGRY with ‘know-it-alls’ that attack media publishers and editors that expose the truth.

  7. steve479Steve Hinks said,

    The Independent article was NOT anti-vaccine. It raised legitimate concerns and published evidence that the MHRA are NOT doing what thety exist for: The Yellow Card Scheme is run by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and is designed to pick up unexpected problems or new side effects. If a serious new side effect is identified, the MHRA will follow up the report. It may change the way a vaccine is used, or even take it off the market.

    If only!

  8. mikeh said,

    Steve, can you highlight how many of the MHRA reports are thought to be causally linked to the vaccination? And of the ones that are causally linked, how many are serious?
    And bearing in mind your answers to that, can you please discuss the nature of the reporting rates and how they may potentially greatly increase with scare stories in the newspaper?

    I am certain you are capable of a rational and well-thought out response that takes into account potential bias and confounding in these matters, so I very much look forward to hearing more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: