Lord Drayson seems convinced that the media has learned the relevent lessons over the MMR debacle. At a conference of science journalists on 1 July he told delegates that lessons had been learned since MMR and repeats the assertion during a debate with Ben Goldacre here. Is he right to be so confident?
First off, he is praising science journalists and as Ben points out both in this debate and elsewhere, most of the serious scaremongering was not written by specialist science and health journalists but by general reporters.
Second, less than a week after the conference , we have this story in the Daily Express which continues to stoke fears of the MMR vaccine.
The headline reads:
Doctor’s MMR Fears”
and the first sentence informs us that there are “Fresh fears for the safety of MMR vaccinations”. And this is by the Express’s Health reporter, Lucy Johnston.
We also have another way of testing Drayson’s hypothesis. Over recent months the NHS has rolled out the HPV vaccine. The HP virus causes 70% of cervical cancers. Cervical cancer, despite screening, kills about one thousand women per year, its most famous victim this year was ‘reality’ star Jade Goody. This vaccine could thus save about 700 women per year. How have the press greeted this?
With scare-mongering. As I pointed out here, the Mail bigged up minor side effects and referred to the vaccine as the ‘promiscuity jab’. The HP virus is sexually transmitted and social conservatives, such as the readers and writers of the Mail, believe that removing the fear of disease and death will encourage teenagers to have sex. There is not a shred of evidence to support this notion and since teenagers have been having illicit sex since time immemorial it is clear that the prospect of disease and death does not discourage them. Teenagers believe that they are immortal and that bad shit happens to other people. As anyone who has a teenager knows, they rarely think about consequences at all. In other words, if they are contemplating sex then the HPV vaccination status of the girl concerned will not enter ino their thinking.
And of course when Natalie Morton died a few hours after receiving the vaccination they went to town and published a scare-mongering rant which relied heavily on quotes from Jackie Fletcher of JABS. When the post-mortem revealed that Natalie had in fact died of a chest tumour the on-line version of this article was extensively rewritten but the Mail did not formally retract their previous statements or indeed acknowledge their rewriting of history. One is reminded of the scene in 1984 where Winston Smith rewrites archives to remove stories that the powers that be find inconvenient.
Furthermore, they still quote Richard Halvorsen here saying that her death calls into question the vaccination program even though her death is not vaccine related.
mjrobbins:Is this what Lord Drayson meant by lessons learned? “PARENTS’ REVOLT AFTER GIRL DIES IN CANCER JAB HORROR”
lorddrayson:Frankly? Yes. It says “most unlikely that the HPV vaccine is the cause of death”
In today’s Sunday Express Lucy Johnston claims that the vaccine is as deadly as the cancer it is intended to prevent. Really? Deaths that will be prevented by the vaccine = 700 per year; deaths caused by the vaccine so far = 0. Johnston’s claim is totally without foundation.
Drayson seems to think that a reference to the Government/NHS “insisting” that the vaccine is safe makes stories such as these ok. I find this attitude surprisingly naive for any adult, let alone one who has been a businessman and is now a Government Minister. Whenever the tabloids refer to this government “insistance” they never give the reasons for it. When this “insistance” is referred to after references to alleged side-effects of the vaccine, “insists” becomes a very emotionally-loaded term. What it means in this context is “keeps repeating despite our evidence”. This is doubtless intentional because it suits these nespapers’ real agenda which is to bash the Government.
Lest you think that I am exaggerating here, let me remind you of Martin Robbins’ discovery that the Irish edition of the Daily Mail is attacking the Irish Government for not rolling out the HPV vaccine. Clearly they do not believe what they are writing. If they want to knock the Government, that is their choice in a free society. It should not be open to them to achieve this aim by telling lies that, if believed, will kill hundreds of people per year.
Lessons learned? Regrettably, I think not.