The title of the Toronto Star’s misleading front page article about vaccine safety has been la-fi-mh-how-a-major-newspaper-20150213-001changed. No longer is it “A Wonder drug’s dark side,” now it reads “Families seek more transparency on HPV vaccine.”

They just don’t get it, do they?

Here we have a vaccine that can protect from the virus that causes cervical cancer. It has not just been studied by the manufacturer, but has been studied by several national health agencies and looked at in a diverse assortment of ways including prospective studies, VAERS and other health registry analysis, evaluating girls with reported health problems, retrospective reviews of large HMO data bases, and prospective post marketing surveillance of over 360,000 doses. I’ve detailed a lot of the safety data here (including screen shots of the product monograph).

There is so much data that we call the information about the vaccine’s safety fact, yet using transparency instead of dark side (never mind the ominous music in the video that accompanies the piece) still introduces an element of doubt masquerading as balance.

With this new title the Toronto Star can only be suggesting the controversy is doctors failing to warn girls that the vaccine’s side effects are the same as placebo. 

This is simply not acceptable from Canada’s largest newspaper. Especially considering  the #3 reason girls don’t get the HPV vaccine is safety concerns.


This article is a social amplifier of perceived risk and any subsequent vaccine hesitancy is unlikely to be mitigated by an op-ed on vaccine safety buried on page 17 .

In 2013 only 57% of girls in the United States had received 1 dose of the HPV vaccine and 38% had received all three. Every year coverage remains below 80% 4,400 U.S. women will go on to develop a cervical cancer that could be protected. If coverage in Canada is less than 80% the same concerns apply.

Getting 80% of the population vaccinated is achievable. In Australia 83% of girls have had 1 dose of the vaccine and 73% have had all three. Consequently they are seeing a significant reduction in pre cancers and a 93% reduction in genital warts. Sadly, the amazing success with HPV vaccination in Australia was something the Star somehow felt not important.

I was angry about the original piece in the Star.

When the op-ed stating the vaccine is safe was dumped on page 17 I got angrier.

When John Cruickshank went on the CBC and spoke about the title, but claimed everything in the piece was right, only the presentation was off I’d just about had it.

When the public editor, Kathy English wondered why the article was published at all and yet it still exists with it’s new “transparency” title it put me over the edge Especially with the comment from the reporters claiming the article isn’t anti-vaccine or pro-vaccine and Kevin Donovan, the investigations editor saying, “this is valid information and the investigation gave voice to women who believe their debilitating illnesses were caused by the vaccine.”

Saying you wrote something that isn’t anti or pro vaccine means you didn’t understand the science. It’s no different from writing 2 + 2 could be 4 or 6 because you are not anti or pro addition. There is no possible way you could have availed yourself of the literature and come to any conclusion other than the vaccine is safe.

I know I’m not a journalist, but it seems to be a pretty low bar for investigative reporting if your only information is anecdotal.

This passing of misinformation, whether due to inadequate investigation, misunderstanding of science, click baiting, or sympathy with anti-vaccination groups must stop. And Toronto Star, I’m beginning to feel like Gandalf facing the Balrog shouting, “You shall not pass.”

And so to anyone else who hopes to publish inadequately reported articles on vaccination I say this:

I am a servant of evidence based medicine. Wielder of the Lasso of Truth. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of misunderstanding and malice. Go back to shadow! You cannot pass.

Toronto Star, you are better than this. Make it right.







*An earlier version of this post incorrectly indicated it was editor Michael Cooke who went on the CBC show As it Happens. It was the publisher John Cruickshank. Michael Cooke was the person who told Julia Bulluz, from Vox, to “stop gargling” the Star’s dirty bathwater.

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  1. Thank you for your series of articles on the Toronto Star and its Gardasil fiasco. I came here from Science Based Medicine and will add you to the blogs I follow. I have been along time Star reader and was horrified to read the original story and the Star’s less than convincing apology — as for Heather Malick!

  2. Thank you!

    I loved this paragraph” Saying you wrote something that isn’t anti or pro vaccine means you didn’t understand the science. It’s no different from writing 2 + 2 could be 4 or 6 because you are not anti or pro addition.” 🙂

  3. Oh wait, you’re the “rural doctor”? LMFAO. Wow, didn’t know people in Toronto were so erudite and cosmopolitan compared to the Bay area.

    From my perspective, the Toronto Star exhibited all the behavior of typical vaccine deniers. Make up a story. Double down on the story. Attack anyone who dares point out all of the fallacies, the lack of evidence, and the danger of the article. Then run for cover.

    I might have to move these people up to Wakefield level. Almost.

  4. We are living in a the most competitive time in history for journalists and thier platforms. Technology gives a voice to every single person in a democracy – and this means that eyes and minds no longer just lock in on the traditional megaliths. Unfortunately, the leveling of the playing field has wrought not only more truth, but also more desperate attempts to attract and retain audiences with sensationalism, regardless truth.

  5. Thanks for your work toward keeping them honest. These so-called journalists and the publications they write for should stick to what they actually understand instead of trying to sell newspapers and article clicks with sensational music and inflammatory positions. They aren’t much good at knowing what they don’t know, but yet they keep talking….

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