Saturday, 3 October 2009

Sunday Express scrapes the bottom of the health scare barrel

The Sunday Express may have produced the worst and the most irresponsible headline yet on the HPV vaccine story.

The story, by Lucy Johnston, doesn't remotely back up the ludicrous claim made in the headline. There certainly isn't a direct quotation in the story matching the words in quote marks in that headline. Or, indeed, anything like it.

It relies partly on Dr Richard Halverson, who has been touting his conspiracy theories (and trying to sell his book) all week.

Halverson was one of the 'experts' who frequently spoke to the media over the MMR scare, while running a private clinic offering single jabs to worried parents (reportedly to the tune of £480). According to Dr Anthony Cox, writing a couple of years ago, there was no evidence he had written any peer-reviewed papers on vaccines or vaccine safety.

He is the one referred to in the sub-head about 'new doubts raised over death of teenager'. Having no knowledge of the case other than media reports, he appears to know better than the coroner as to what killed Natalie Morton.

The other expert is Dr Diane Harper who was involved in the trials of the vaccine. She said a month ago that:

the vaccine is proven effective.

Before adding:

for most women it is safe, but there are real risks associated with it.

The Sunday Express quotes her saying:

in a small number of cases there are serious side effects.

Which still doesn't support that headline. Of course, there can be side effects with any medicine or medical procedure. But they are exceptionally rare.

So it appears the headline stemmed from this claim:

the risks – “small but real” – could be worse than the risk of developing cancer itself.

But it still doesn't say the same thing, is largely paraphrased, so we don't know what was actually said, and includes the rather crucial word 'could', which usually means 'could be but isn't'.

The number of people who may look at that Sunday Express front page and see this vaccine being compared with cancer in terms of how lethal it is, and take that on board, is hugely worrying.

Let's hope that most of them don't regard the Express as a credible source of medical advice. They shouldn't.

They should read instead official or more reliable sources of information here, here and here.


  1. I see that "have You Say" has been disabled on this Express story. I wonder why?

  2. ah yes. an extreme headline in giant letters surrounded by enormous adverts for free chocolate, tomorrows paper cheap and a bird feeder.they've certaintly covered middle england.

    although "jabs by illegal immigrants 'as deadly as the cancer'" would have been even more effective. left that one for the mail on sunday then.


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