Impact of Katie Couric’s misinformation on HPV vaccine in one image


After viewing Katie Couric’s show an acquaintance’s mother sent her this e-mail. Because many people believe the health information they see on TV, especially when it comes form a source like Couric who has been known, until this point anyway, as a trusted journalist.  

Kate’s Couric’s “take” was about as scientific as a show entitled, “Is the sun really hot? Evaluating both sides of the controversy so you can decide,” backed by two moms (one of whom runs a sun isn’t hot website and side business) who claim the coldness of the sun caused injury with no supporting data on why we should all believe that the sun is really a ball of ice. The expert who is trotted out to speak about the sun’s lack of heat uses incorrect data and completely side steps the main tag line about whether the sun’s ice really is damaging because she wants to talk about the marketing of the sun. 


But apparently this is what Katie Couric has to do to get better ratings. Afternoon TV isn’t about science and experts, it’s about “real moms”* telling their stories. If you want to know more about the “real mom” demographic read this fascinating bit on Katie Couric’s sinking ratings. Sadly, I am guessing the amount of press that Ms. Couric is getting from her hack job will only lead her further down the dangerous path towards the ratings garden of woo where undoubtedly she will be welcomed with open arms by the Queen of TV woo herself, Oprah, and her spritely sidekick, Prince Mehmet.     

If you want to read more about the safety of the HPV vaccine there are great articles by Matthew Herper at Forbes, Beth Swarecki at PLoS Blogs, and Seth Mnookin that all include something Katie Couric and her producers doesn’t seem to know about, references.  

And yes, pediatricians, gynecologists, nurse practitioners will all get to spend more time explaining why the HPV vaccine is safe and sadly, vaccination rates may drop even further.

Katie, there actually is a HPV controversy. Why do we have a vaccine series that appears to be less effective for African-American women? Too bad your producers didn’t think to ask anyone without an agenda other than evidence based medicine.



*For the record, I’m not sure what “real mom” actually means.


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  1. Well at least her exposure will be less when she gets demoted to a web show on Yahoo. To help redress the depression of this appalling false balance journalism, let’s celebrate that one province in Canada has now announced it will give Gardasil to boys as well as girls. I’ve been arguing this for years – it stops the spread of HPV faster than simply treating half the population, it prevents penile squamous cell Ca and anorectal Ca, it prevents around half of all head and neck cancers, and it is the only way to give any protection at all to gay men. Smart move.

  2. This doesn’t really relate but it could be a helpful parenting tip. When our pediatrician recommended Gardasil for my sons I asked the boys if they wanted to look up genital warts on Google images or get the shot, they got the shots.

  3. Pediatricians, gynecologists, nurse practitioners will all get to spend more time explaining why the HPV vaccine is safe and sadly, vaccination rates may drop even further- more time explaining how it’s safe? That would be a short conversation. It’s not safe. You just heard from a top expert, someone who helped create the vaccine tell you it’s not safe. Please learn to listen next time. I would much rather hear from the thousands of moms who lost children to vaccines (who is making money off of no one) rather than a scientist who is profiting off my child, at any cost. That’s the definition of a REAL mom. This doctor family does not vaccinate. Just like that famous Dr Oz on TV that doesn’t vaccinate his family, but encourages the rest of the world to do $o. Follow the money.

    1. Please provide data indicating the vaccine is unsafe. Dr. Harper, Couric’s expert, own publications indicate the adverse events associated with the vaccine are no higher than placebo.

  4. Well… there is something wrong with people making decisions based on television rather than asking their doctor or at least consulting A doctor. As well as blaming some reporter for the bad info, or anyone else for anything else a person does wrong, that was used to make a bad decision because of a lack of interest in doing the research before making a decision. Why getting mad at Katie would change things is beyond me. If her misinformation is the problem, then what happens to the lethargy that stops someone from finding answers on their own and not questioning the sources of those answers to determined the trustworthiness of the source. It seems like the problem is me rather than the person on the television. Facts don’t matter if I’m not willing to find out what they are. When I find facts on tv, the internet or in a magazine, I have a choice. To believe or not to believe. Just like using a bad contractor who rips me off, if I don’t try more sources for my information then it’s my fault I got ripped off for bad work. For goodness sake, I haven’t even committed to buying a new cell phone yet because I don’t like the reviews well enough yet to decide what my best choice is, let alone if I would take the vaccine or not. I believe in childhood vaccines because it worked for me, but I’m still not sure if I will get all of them if I have a child because of the new finding that have surfaced. I know if may be offensive and rude to some, but evolution is still VERY active. It works most effectively upon those who rely on media to make all needed decisions as opposed to those who seek answers of their own.

  5. A question re. the vaccines not providing as effective coverage to everyone: Is there any sense of a timescale to improve the vaccines to cover more HPV strains, to provide better coverage?

  6. One more example of why I don’t watch “Katie”…she never struck me as a journalist with a real interest in facts or real news.

    1. “Just for starters” ?

      Dr. Gunter is explaining actual evidence-based medicine here; which is to say _facts_. One fact is that HPV causes cancers and kills people, and the vaccines* save prevent cancers and save lives. A second is that the public being horrifically misinformed about the vaccines means that fewer people get vaccinated, and more people get infected by HPV. This is not disputable without denying reality.

      A third fact is that the vaccines could be better than they are, but that is not a reason to not give the current ones to people in advance of exposure to the viruses (i.e. in adolescence).

      *Gardasil, which is also marketed as “Gardisil” and “Silgard”, and the entirely separate Cervarix.

  7. Unfortunately, Jen, the news business is a business and a hard-hitting news show loaded with experts is unfortunately going to have the “real mom” crowd (and quite a few other Americans) changing the channel, accuracy be damned. People have too short attention spans (and too much competition for their attention) to watch something that doesn’t emotionally arouse them in some way, preferably while reinforcing their preconceived notions of the world (after all, who wants to be told they’re wrong when there are others out there who will say they’re right).

    A few years ago, Jib Jab, the creators of the Bush-Kerry election satire cartoons, created a satirical cartoon about the state of the “news” in this country that sums up this phenomenon very well:

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