Evidence and belief

This morning, news came in from the inquest into the death of a 14-year old girl, Natalie Morton, who died shortly after receiving a vaccination against HPV (human papilloma virus).  In short: the poor girl had a malignant tumour in her chest which was undoubtedly the cause of death.

This hasn’t stopped the anti-vaccination squads from speculating about the safety of the vaccine.  The Daily Mail, long-time opponent of most childhood vaccinations (except the ones against really horribly scary illnesses) has already been running a story depicting HPV vaccination as ‘a mass experiment.’   The story has now been altered to reflect the outcome of the inquest, yet the criticism of HPV vaccine remains unchanged.

What is particularly interesting is the comments to the article, which (presumably) span both versions.  There are many commenters fretting about Big Pharma and unknown risks; some of the more recent comments still seem to view her vaccination as the catalyst for her sudden death, because of the suspicious timing.

“I have never heard of anyone who appears outwardly healthy dying within two hours because of a tumour. Never.”

As the comments continue, there are new arguments for and against, from doctors and nurses, and from those with long-term suspicions of vaccination.   In addition to the printed comments, there is a larger unseen audience giving comments the thmbs-up or thumbs down; the unseen audience appears to be more pro-vaccine than anti-.

Another anxious commenter:

“A consent form has recently appeared from my daughters school for this vaccination. I have not consented as she is only 12 and I do not feel that this drug has been tested for long enough. We do not know if this covers her for the next two months or the next twenty years. Too many questions need answering before I would consent to her having it.”

There are quite a few comments of this type, and they present really difficult challenges for a medic to explain.  HPV vaccine appears to be very safe, enough for someone like me (pro vaccine, pro science) to go right ahead.  If you are worried and you’re somewhat suspicious of so-called scientific evidence, you are going to need immense amounts of reassurance, and even then, a large pile of long-term studies may not be enough to change your mind.

I do understand people’s fears, and indeed the power of coincidence in making us look for direct links between events – but I expected more from the editors and headline writers.   There is nothing to be gained from another anti-vaccination campaign.  I’d like to hope that it no longer sold newspapers.


2 Responses

  1. “I expected more from the editors and headline writers”

    Of the Daily Mail? Did you really?

  2. I don’t know quite how to answer this one, because it sort of points out breezy sarcasm on both our sides. It is really easy to attack the Mail, because…well, it’s the Mail. On the other hand, death due to immunisation versus death actually due to a horrible, unsuspected tumour – why wouldn’t the second one be reported so much? It’s not like there was much uncertainty.

    My guess is that the Mail is very fond of anti-vaccination stories, probably because it fits with Big Pharma suspicions.

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