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Bullshit Health Hell in a handcart

Ban this evil vaccine!

Guess which newspaper?

More than 1,300 schoolgirls have experienced adverse reactions to the controversial cervical cancer jab.

Doctors have reported that girls aged just 12 and 13 have suffered paralysis, convulsions and sight problems after being given the vaccine.

Everybody panic! Why, out of nearly 3/4 of a million vaccinations:

Their latest analysis found there had been 1,340 reports in total, with 2,891 different adverse effects noted. Most were minor complaints such as rashes, swelling on the injection site, pain or allergic reactions.

Swelling on the injection site? That’s not going to scare the readers. How about more serious things?

Four girls had convulsions, one had a seizure and one had an epileptic fit.

Any history of such things? Was the one who had the epileptic fit suffering from, say, epilepsy? Who cares! We have a scare story to write!

There were several cases of paralysis. One had Bell’s palsy, which paralyses the face; one had hemiparesis, which paralyses or severely weakens half the body; two experienced hypoaesthesia, in which the sufferer loses much of her sense of touch, and one had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which paralyses the legs.

Let’s Google, shall we? Guillain-Barré syndrome is a kind of autoimmune disease that usually turns up after a viral or gastric infection. Hemiparesis is usually caused by lesions in the corticospinal tract, which runs from the brain to the spinal cord. Hypoaesthesia is reduced sensitivity to touch, or a feeling of numbness, and causes can include trauma, nerve injury, tumours, MS and, er, leprosy.

Back to the article:

There were almost 20 cases of blurred vision and one girl was reported as developing anorexia.

The implication there is that it’s Anorexia Nervosa, the psychiatric illness, which would be bizarre enough. But plain old anorexia just means loss of appetite.

No wonder it isn’t bylined.

14 replies on “Ban this evil vaccine!”

>>1,340 reports in total, with 2,891 different adverse effects noted.

Surely this vaccine can’t cause 2891 *different* adverse reactions after only 700,000 doses. MMR only has about 100 based on 80million doses (rough estimate from counting quickly. Definitely much less than 150). (Interestingly Guillain-Barré syndrome is one of them for MMR) Fair enough if it was 2891 adverse effects total out of 1340 people, like 1000 nausea, 50 diarrhea, etc but 2891 *different* effects? That’s two unique reactions per case. If every adverse case brings up two unique reactions then surely it’s only a matter of time before we have kids spontaneously combusting or developing superpowers.

>Interestingly Guillain-Barré syndrome

*guesswork alert*

Since typical vaccines purposes are to stimulate the immune system in some way, an auto-immune reaction to certain vaccines in susceptible individuals doesn’t seem like the most unlikely thing in the world. Now there *is* something worth researching…

>combusting or developing superpowers.

I think you may have been aiming for the “watchmen = rubbish” thread with that one. Although, if the queue for the watchmen showing I walked past on Saturday night was anything to go by what we really have to look out for is kids spontaneously growing full length leather trench coats.

> an auto-immune reaction to certain vaccines in susceptible individuals doesn’t seem like the most unlikely thing in the world

Don’t know enough about the subject to know if that one flies or not. Which is why I don’t write front-page health stories for national newspapers, unlike the legendary DAILY MAIL REPORTER :)

> Any history of such things? Was the one who had the epileptic fit suffering from, say, epilepsy?

To be fair, that would be more damning, not less, as it would involve a doctor giving a patient a drug to which the doctor should know she’d have a bad reaction. If he, you know [Pet Hate Alert!] could be arsed reading her fucking notes.

> out of nearly 3/4 of a million vaccinations

Yes, it’s a small proportion, but is it small enough? The interesting thing about this vaccine is that the usual ethical vaccine arguments don’t apply to it, because the disease it’s preventing doesn’t spread easily, so herd immunity isn’t an issue. With measles, you have to look at results population-wide and so offset one child’s reaction to a vaccine against another child’s not dying of measles. With this one, you don’t: while a girl could, after refusing the vaccine, go on to get cancer herself, she’s not going to be increasing the risk to anyone who happens to sit near her on the bus. So I’m not convinced population-wide stats and proportions make such a powerful argument here. The issue is, for this one individual, the state gave her an injection, and it caused demonstrably bad results, while any good results are purely hypothetical because she might never have gone on to get the cancer anyway. I’m not convinced that’s defensible. Though such an attitude is increasingly popular these days: witness the women who get double mastectomies because their mother had breast cancer and so they might well get it too.

Talking of bad science, this from the NHS’s site:

The HPV vaccine protects against the two strains of HPV (16 and 18) that cause cervical cancer in over 70% of women.

Over 70% of women get cervical cancer? Really?

So, there’s a less than 1 in 500 chance of a reaction from this vaccine and the majority of those are very minor. I’m not sure how that compares to other vaccines but it seems relatively safe to me.

There’s a potential to prevent cervical cancer in a lot of women using this with a seemingly low risk. How do the numbers work out? How many cases do they think could be prevented?

11,000 women in the USA were diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2007 and 4,000 died from it:

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/hpv-vaccine

Bigger population than the UK but it seems to me that there’s the potential for a lot of lives to be saved for not much risk.

Obviously, the best method of HPV prevention is for all these females to avoid genital contact altogether, the hussies ;)

> If he, you know [Pet Hate Alert!] could be arsed reading her fucking notes.

True, but do jabs trigger fits? Not epileptic so I don’t know.

> So I’m not convinced population-wide stats and proportions make such a powerful argument here.

I’m not coming at this from that perspective, though: “campaigners” want the entire vaccination programme halted, and reporting like this only helps them.

> Yes, it’s a small proportion, but is it small enough?

Depends on your perspective, really. 700 deaths versus 1,300 adverse reactions, most of them small? Seems like good odds to me.

To take just one other example, in the early stages of stop-smoking drug Champix being available in the UK, MHRA received nearly 900 notifications of adverse effects from 15,000 to 20,000 users. Most of them were minor too – nausea, vomiting, etc – but some were significant: 46 cases of depression, albeit mainly in people with prior history of psychiatric problems. That’s quite a big number, I think, but you’re still more likely to stop smoking than to go doo-lally on Champix, so the odds are still in the drug’s favour.

Obviously this is personal preference, and there’s a risk in anything medical – my back surgery had a risk of paralysis or death, and there’s a 1 in 100 chance that the operation will make the pain worse rather than better. 99% chance of it working was still good enough for me. But if I were Daily Mail Reporter, my headline would say that 1 in 100 people suffer pain, paralysis or death – which of course isn’t the case.

It’s back to the same old thing again: health reporting should be about facts, not sensationalism.

> my back surgery had a risk of paralysis or death, and there’s a 1 in 100 chance that the operation will make the pain worse rather than better.

Yes, but you had a back problem. Would you have taken those odds if your back had been absolutely fine but the surgery might have prevented a future problem that you might never have got? How about if you knew how to prevent the back problem, and it was easy?

Similarly with the Champix example: given its risks, should non-smokers take it?

> 700 deaths versus 1,300 adverse reactions, most of them small? Seems like good odds to me.

Depends what you’re comparing it to. With vaccines for diseases which just jump from one person into whoever happens to be in the same room, you’re comparing them to mass quarantining — with the necessary legal enforcement and occasional jailing, since people will break the quarantine. Not reasonable. (For instance, Mao Tse Tung erradicated TB in China by simply killing everyone who had TB. Effective, but harsh.) With the HPV vaccine, you’re comparing it to non-promiscuity and/or condoms.

The key difference here is whether it’s a public good. In the case of measles, it is: you don’t have your child vaccinated to stop them getting measles; you have them vaccinated to stop them passing measles on and hence you contribute to wiping out measles altogether. That’s why talk of it being each parent’s choice about whether to vaccinate their child completely misses the point.

With the HPV vaccine, that’s not on the cards — I’ve certainly seen no mention of plans to vaccinate men, who carry it too but don’t get cervical cancer. With this one, it is each individual’s decision whether to be vaccinated, because their decision doesn’t really affect anyone else. Plus, they do have the option that is not available with more infectious diseases: they can opt not to have the vaccine yet still to take other effective measures to avoid infection.

All that being the case, I personally think most of the advocacy for this vaccine is misleading. To give it the same sort of risk acceptability thresholds as a vaccine for a highly infectious disease is simply wrong. It’s bad science, in fact.

I’m not against the vaccine, by the way.

The campaigners who insist it should be each individual’s choice whether to vaccinate for measles are wrong. The campaigners who insist it should be each individual’s choice whether to vaccinate for HPV are right. They may be the same campaigners in both cases and they may just be generically anti-vaccine and they may not understand why the two issues are different, but so what? Why fight the battle on their turf? If there’s a distinction to be made — and there is a huge one — make it.

> do jabs trigger fits? Not epileptic so I don’t know.

Oh, no idea. I was just going off at a tangent from your example.

>>With the HPV vaccine, you’re comparing it to non-promiscuity and/or condoms.

Condoms don’t stop HPV spreading. There have been many studies on STDs that have found this but there was a specific study on HPV in 2006 that found that the chances of infection are reduced by about half when using condoms 100% of the time compared to 5% or less use. The infection rate was still at about 40% though. There is also evidence to suggest that any skin to skin contact can spread it. Obviously depends where your skin has been.

As far as promiscuity goes – you have to eliminate all promiscuity. One partner for life for everyone.

> Condoms don’t stop HPV spreading.

Fair enough.

> As far as promiscuity goes – you have to eliminate all promiscuity.

How’d you work that out? If I’m not promiscuous, I can still catch HPV because someone in Durham sleeps around?

>>I can still catch HPV because someone in Durham sleeps around?

Obviously being hypothetical here but say for some reason you are no longer married and you get into another relationship in the future. Say your new partner slept with someone who slept with someone who in turn had touched someones penis in a rugby club drunken night out who had slept with your person in Durham. The only person there that is necessarily being promiscuous is the durham person. Everyone else could have legitimately had only a couple serious monogamous relationships. In America recently they reckoned that infection rates were about 1 in 4. If this is spread by promiscuity does that imply that 25% of the adult female population of the US are promiscous, or does it suggest that this spreads easier than people think?

Also, even if you aren’t being promiscuous then how do you know that your partner hasn’t been in the past? or their ex?

Probably the biggest issue is the condom one. Pretty much all sex education stresses that if you’re going to sleep with people, if you use condoms then you’ll probably be OK.

> The campaigners who insist it should be each individual’s choice whether to vaccinate for HPV are right.

Oh, I agree. Or at least I would if that was what the campaigners want. But the group quoted in the article, Jabs, are anti-vaccine in general, and anti-MMR and anti-HPV specifically. It’s not that they’re insisting it should be every individual’s choice; they don’t want people to have the choice.

You know, I think the real problem with all of this is that Daily Mail Reporter only covers the extremes – uncritically. So drug company PR is regurgitated whole, pressure group bullshit is regurgitated whole, and the truth is lost somewhere in the middle. Surely journalists’ job is to cut through the bullshit on both sides? If they don’t, it’s not journalism. It’s typing.

Well, that’s a problem with journalism that goes way beyond science reporting. It’s become dogma in the media that you report an issue fairly by consulting both sides of the argument — no matter how far on either side they may be and even if only about three people in the world agree with them. You can still just about make out the good intentions whence this idea sprang, but it’s gone hopelessly wrong: it’s shifted from “Don’t foist your views on the reader; allow them to use their own judgment” to “Never ever exercise any judgment of your own.”

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