The Independent is the latest newspaper to do a hack job on the safety of the HPV vaccine and stoke false concerns about safety by publishing this poorly researched and alarmist piece on Sunday written by Paul Gallagher.

Readers of this blog might notice the similarity in titles between this post and another response of mine to a newspaper botching a story on the HPV vaccine – Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science Says the Toronto Star is Wrong. This is because The Independent and the Toronto Star pieces are almost identical in format. The well-known standard format for a journalist completely missing the boat on the HPV vaccine is as follows:

  • Cases of girls and their mothers’ claiming harm
  • Reports from data bases showing many adverse events after the vaccine but not mentioning (or understanding) that these data bases are not designed to do what the reporters claim they do – show cause and effect
  • Lip service to agencies that have the data and could talk about safety but aren’t afforded the print
  • No mention of the myriad of studies involving millions of doses refuting claims made in the newspaper
  • Mention Japan withdrawing recommendation for the HPV vaccine, but not mentioning everything else about Japan and vaccines. What really happened was in 2013 the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare partially suspended the HPV vaccination program, however, this move was criticized widely by experts. The Japanese Pediatric Society recommends HPV vaccination.  Experts have called for reform of the Japanese vaccination system, and not just because of the HPV vaccine decision. In 2013 Japan experienced a massive outbreak of rubella due to a large percentage of unvaccinated males and tragically experienced a return of congenital rubella syndrome. We shouldn’t be modeling vaccinations programs after Japan.
  • An expert claiming “we just don’t know”
  • Failure to interview experts who are actively studying HPV vaccine safety
  • Failure to explain in a biologically plausible manner how the HPV vaccine could cause these effects
  • Neglect the massive success of HPV vaccination in Australia and their excellent safety data

Like the Toronto Star the Independent’s piece is one grand exercise in confirmation bias . It follows the style of the Toronto Star article so closely the cynic on me wonders if both pieces were germinated from a press release from an anti vaccine group? Both newspaper articles were closely timed with papers questioning the safety of the vaccine and these tend to be widely circulated by anti-vaccine groups.

The Independent references a recent “paper” in the journal Clinical Rheumatology by Dr. Manual Martinez-Lavin that reaches the following conclusion:

“Case reports and small series have described the onset of CRPS, POTS, and fibromyalgia after HPV vaccination. Dysautonomia plays an important role in the pathogenesis of these overlapping syndromes. Small fiber neuropathy has been recently described in CRPS, POTS, and fibromyalgia. Pain and dysautonomia are the clinical manifestations of small fiber neuropathy and of HPV vaccination syndrome. Clinicians should be aware of the possible association between HPV vaccination and the development of the puzzling CRPS POTS and/or fibromyalgia adverse events involving pain are more common after HPV vaccination.”

However, Dr. Martinez-Lavin’s paper isn’t a study it’s a discussion of his hypothesis. I know because I paid the $39.95 to read it. I wonder if the reporter did? This review paper doesn’t even include as a reference the 2013 study looking at a massive Danish and Swedish data base with almost 700,000 doses and no increase incidence of adverse autoimmune or neurological events.

Mr. Gallagher make no mention of the massive amounts of safety data that are easy to find with a couple of clicks on Google – it doesn’t even take a visit to PubMed for goodness sake!. The most recent large post marketing surveillance data shows no increased risk of autoimmune disorders among HPV vaccine recipients.

So here’s the deal, researchers have looked at autoimmune and many rare conditions and the HPV vaccine. Teenage girls do faint more after shots, a fact that has been proven by looking at the placebo arm, so data bases looking at adverse events will always have more when the primary target is teenage girls. Young women are also more likely to get autoimmune conditions, but looking at massive amounts of follow-up data no link between autoimmune disorders and the HPV vaccine has been identified.

Like Dr. Martinez-Lanvin I also treat chronic pain conditions, exclusively in women. In my 20 years of experience treating chronic pain I have seen no association between the HPV vaccine and painful conditions. But my personal experience shouldn’t matter at all because there are large prospective studies and an incredible volume of safety follow-up data, much of it not managed by drug companies. In short, there is excellent evidence based medicine.

The Toronto Star after intense pressure from the medical community and public withdrew their article on the HPV vaccine. We need to put pressure on The Independent to do the same.


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  1. “We shouldn’t be modeling vaccinations programs after Japan.”

    They have a history of making bad vaccination policies that go back for decades.

    Start with not vaccinating any child under age two for pertussis. Turns out you can’t blame a vaccine for SIDS when the child never received the vaccine, and more babies died from pertussis:

    Expert Rev Vaccines. 2005 Apr;4(2):173-84.
    Acellular pertussis vaccines in Japan: past, present and future.

    Lancet. 1998 Jan 31;351(9099):356-61.
    Impact of anti-vaccine movements on pertussis control: the untold story.

    Then there was the stumble with measles:

    BMC Public Health. 2005 Jun 4;5:59.
    Measles vaccine coverage and factors related to uncompleted vaccination among 18-month-old and 36-month-old children in Kyoto, Japan.

    Which resulted in at least 88 deaths, and exporting measles elsewhere.

  2. Thank you for this piece. I am a nurse vaccinating young women with the vaccine. The amount of incorrect information out there is incredible. I wish the right information was more widely published and available!

  3. Is there a way to report the newspaper and journalist for such a dangerous piece of work?

    1. Unfortunately, because certain people treat “freedom of the press” like a religion, we don’t have effective means for protecting ourselves from the press’s shortcomings.

      1. Ah, but we do have effective means of countering misinformation — more information. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” More speech (like Dr. Gunter’s), not less, is the solution. I would never want to see the day that the First Amendment is hobbled or abrogated. In fact, the First Amendment enshrines freedom of speech and of the press equally with freedom of religion.

  4. – pity they ignore the benefits of the vaccine. In Scotland, we have used our data linkage abilities to look at over 59 adverse events and the HPV vaccine and will shortly submit that manuscript – hopefully dispelling this nonsense. Thanks for posting.

  5. Jen , can I suggest you send this item to the Independent to see if they will print it ?
    Problem is ‘ bad news ‘ sells papers , if it’s good news nobody worries about it .

  6. The PBS special on The Emperor of All Maladies discusses the HPV vaccine and what a break through it is. Anything to do with sex and women’s freedom freaks some people out. And of course, boys can get the vaccine too.

  7. Gah! Why do journalists keep doing this??! They should be charged with impairing public health and be mandated to take a critical thinking and reading comprehension class. Hmph.
    Dr Jen, you should save yourself the $36 and send me an e-mail if you want the full text of these articles, between my university and clinical school’s access, I will more than likely be able to get it for you. I don’t think that sort of trashy article should be lent credibility by someone paying for it.

  8. I’ve read a few posts and tweets of yours on the HPV vaccine subject, and I don’t know if you’ve ever answered one fundamental question: should parents (and children) be able to choose to NOT receive the HPV vaccine (or any vaccine, for that matter)? Yes or no.
    Thank you.

    1. How is a “yes or no” answer to that question going to establish anything? Only an uncompromising ideologue could give you the answer you demand.

      Obviously there are some people who cannot be vaccinated safely. The correct answer, for anyone living in society is “Generally, no”. But society cannot make you receive any vaccine; however, if you choose NOT to receive the HPV vaccine, or any vaccine for that matter, you have to be prepared to accept the adverse consequences.

  9. I used to think that The Independent was a reliable newspaper; in the past it was. But today some of the stuff, such as the article you reference, is more like the rubbish in the Daily Mail. Perhaps it’s the pressures on journalists to produce ‘stories’ but without the time to do any real background research; perhaps it’s the pressures to produce ‘stories’ with scary headlines to boost circulation, perhaps it’s just because so many journalists have no understanding or training in science. Whatever; it neither does any good for the paper’s reputation, nor does it do anything to alleviate the anxiety that some people have over vaccination today.

    1. I think the Daily Mail also ran an article based on the same “study”. My buddy @danaullman tweeted about it, as if it proved something.

      I myself have had an adverse reaction to every vaccine I have ever received: a sore arm.

      1. Trump is going to put the cat amongst the pigeons when it comes to vaccines. He is one person who will cut through the crap and report the truth. For all you sheep, shit back and wait.

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