Yet another vaccination scare

Posted on December 22, 2011

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Dateline: 15 November 2011 // Posted by: Julie
Source: The Daily Mail, and others.

Story: “Girl, 13, left in ‘waking coma’ and sleeps for 23 hours a day after severe reaction to cervical cancer jabs”

Summary: After receiving a vaccination that would help protect Lucy Hinks from cervical cancer, her parents believe that it is was the cause of their daughter’s mysterious illness, what they describe as making her sleep for up to 23 hours a day; as well as the impairment of no longer being capable of speech except to ‘whisper’ five words. Her parents describe having to spoon feed her, with most of the meals consisting of soft food because chewing “takes precious energy”.     

The couple portrays their daughter as having been “perfectly healthy” before the jab. But, they say, a few weeks after her third vaccination she began to feel exhausted, and two months later she could sleep all day and night. They became convinced that had they not given her consent to receive the vaccine, this would not have happened; and that they had been “reassured by the school nurse that side-effects were extremely unlikely”.

Tests have ruled out the possibility of a brain tumor or glandular fever as a potential cause. Doctors are 95 per cent sure that Lucy is suffering from ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Mrs Hinks claims that she received a letter from the consultant at the hospital that this “might turn out to be a reaction to the HPV vaccine”. Mr and Mrs Hinks are now “urging parents to find out about the potential side effects of the vaccine, Cervarix”, just before many schoolgirls are preparing to receive their course of the immunization.

Why is this PseudoNews? Firstly this is PseudoNews because it is based on anecdotal evidence relating to a single case. To verify that the HPV vaccine causes these side effects, one would have to run large-scale properly conducted studies. Fortunately a study was published this year in this regard. More than 44,000 girls received the HPV vaccine in an extremely monitored, placebo-controlled setting. There were no deaths, and the risk of serious side effects was the same in the vaccine and placebo groups; fainting and headaches occurred equally in both the group who received the vaccine and also the group which received the placebo, suggesting that the needle was to blame rather than the vaccine.

Secondly, the article fails to show a correlation between the HPV injection and any symptoms that Lucy Hinks developed afterwards. They assume that event 1 caused event 2 merely because it happened first. No one can endorse this reasoning. This is  the highly dangerous as this article was published in three of the most popular tabloids in England, at the same time as many parents discussing whether their child should receive the vaccine or not.

Thirdly, the entire article is extremely misleading as the headline, sub-headings and the second paragraph all claim the girl had a reaction to the jabs, when really this was only being investigated into. As well as this, the Daily Mail’s critics believe that the HPV injection can “give teenagers a false sense of security, encouraging them to be more sexually active because they no longer have to fear cervical cancer.” To claim this as variable is just as absurd to claim that the vaccine also causes CFS syndrome. Neither have any scientific evidence to support them. This type of controversy has emerged previously with regard to such newspapers: for example, the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips strongly believes that the MMR vaccine causes autism, a position that has repeatedly been demonstrated to be false.

What features of pseudoscience are on show? The parents base their reasoning on an argument from ignorance. Mr and Mrs Hinks choose to believe that the HPV jab caused their daughter to develop ME/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome because they did not find any other evidence that would support a different hypothesis. Several viruses have been studied as possible causes of CFS, but no cause-and-effect relationship has been discovered. Besides this point, the HPV jab does not contain a live virus within it. It is completely irrational to assume that the HPV jab causes CFS just because it is still unknown what the causes are.

Secondly, the parents claim that the consultant from the hospital claimed that this “might turn out to be a reaction to the HPV vaccine”. This is an argument from authority, because it draws meaning from an assumption that an expert opinion is worth as much as (or more than) demonstrable evidence. This is the only strand of scientific evidence that is quoted from the ‘letter’, and is extremely weak indeed. It similar to saying that the HPV jab causes Morgellons disease for no other reason than this disease too has an unknown cause.

The moral of the story: It has not been proven that the HPV jab causes severe side effects, but it has been proven that it can help reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. Many controlled studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is highly save and extremely effective in protecting young women from developing cervical cancer.

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