Sunday, 4 October 2009

Context? I Don't Have Time for That!

The Sunday Express has this article today. And we appear to be back into "cherry pick stuff to make a story 'cause we need to sell papers" territory. Either that or just very poor reporting.

Written by Lucy Johnston, the title of the piece is Jab 'As Deadly As The Cancer'. Don't hold back will you, Lucy?

The article opens with some claims attributed to Dr Diane Harper including the fact that a similar vaccine (Gardasil) used in America has been associated with 32 deaths. What the article does not tell us however, is that these 32 deaths are from 23 million doses of Gardasil. It is not clear if all 32 deaths are the result of Gardasil but even if they are the number is miniscule. Steven Novella has a (as usual) good post about this here.

Then immediately after;
Her comments follow the death of 14-year-old Natalie Morton, who collapsed an hour after receiving the jab at school last week. 
Of course, why bother highlighting the fact that a post mortem has revealed that Natalie Morton died from cancer. No, no, no. That wouldn't do. Not here. No, we need to put that in later, a few paragraphs further down. You know, away from this bit.

Ok, so we've scared the pants off the readers with the title and we've mentioned some deaths from a similar vaccine but neglected to inform the reader of the full statistical impact of these. So far so tabloid.

They quote Dr Harper again;
Dr Harper, of the University of Missouri-Kansas, said she believed the risks – “small but real” – could be worse than the risk of developing cancer itself. 
And? All medical interventions have some risk. Even asprin. These are all real. And the best vaccines should have a small risk. The ones that have a big risk are not so good.

So now we're far enough down the piece to throw in Natalie's death being due to cancer. But we can't just put it in as it is, no, no, no. That doesn't fit in with our 'vaccines are bad' story at all. No, better put a dissenting voice in. Oh, and look, here comes one now, Dr Richard Halvorsen.
Post mortem results last week blamed Natalie’s death on a rare cancer but Dr Richard Halvorsen, author of The Truth About Vaccines, said: “One minute Natalie is an apparently healthy girl, she has the vaccine and within two hours she is dead. 
I have not read his book so can't comment on whether it is anti-vax or not but Natalie was 'an apparently healthy girl'. She had undiagnosed cancer which (with hindsight) was the real cause of her death. And of course 'apparently healthy' does not mean healthy.

We are told she had a terrible cancer inside her that killed her but this is implausible. 

Yes, of course. No one gets cancer these days. Totally implausible. You'll be telling me homeopathy and acupuncture work next. Oh, wait...

“If you have cancer you have symptoms. Clearly public health doctors are desperate to turn the debate away from the vaccine as a possible cause.”

Not always noticeable or clear symptoms though. And the doctors are not desperate, just trying to be, you know, factual.

So how do we scare people a bit more? We've got no more deaths to go on. Aha...

Lisa Wickendon, 13, of Chobham, Surrey, developed muscle weakness in her legs after her third dose of vaccine last March, leaving her unable to walk. 

When hospital tests came back normal, doctors said her symptoms were in her mind and referred her to a mental health team.

However, a consultant psychiatrist said her mental health was sound and her symptoms had “a strong relationship to receiving the vaccine”.

Maybe this was a side effect, maybe not. But let's look at the Cervarix information sheet for side effects. Hmmmm....muscle weakness, check. Maybe the first doctor was wrong. Even if he was, muscle weakness is a known side effect.

Her mother Elizabeth, a secretary, said: “She couldn’t walk or see properly. She couldn’t make those things up.”

Yes she could, maybe not consciously. The mind is a powerful thing. Maybe all the news scare stories got to her and coupled with the muscle weakness made her panic. If she couldn't see properly it may be a new side effect. I assume Lisa is ok now, the article (surprisingly?) doesn't say. Surely we can't have people thinking the side effects went away after a bit leaving no lasting damage, eh?

Oh, and comments are turned off on the article. Wouldn't want a serious debate now would we? You know, one that involves that pesky context.

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