UPDATE (24-Feb-2015) This story has been retracted by the Toronto Star. Good.
As Retraction Watch notes, a newspaper retraction is rare. But something had to be done about this story. The sad part is that it remained for 15 days and readers absorbed the false information. False info is VERY hard to undo even with a retraction.
Originally published 11-Feb 2015
This story about Gardasil vaccine safety has been going on for days. We’ve posted bits and pieces but here is a rundown of the chronology and major media coverage.
The Toronto Star was PUMMELED after they published this irresponsible piece:
As part of its ongoing investigation into drug safety, the newspaper analyzed side-effect reports from a Health Canada database, and interviewed regulators, a doctor closely involved in the vaccine’s clinical trial and, in 12 cases, young women and parents who believe the vaccine caused considerable suffering.
12 cases out of millions of vaccinations. Anecdotal evidence. Oh, that trumps the well established knowledge that the vaccine is safe! Well, it rightly sparked a fury of criticism from doctors and public health advocates. But the Toronto Star, in a wave of cognitive dissonance, continued to defend the piece. In this commentary, Heather Mallick continues over the cliff (Vaccine debate is one we shouldn’t even be having: Mallick)
I cannot take Twitter to the Supreme Court of Canada for a humane ruling, more’s the pity. Twitter and aggregator sites are how libel and damaging rumour spread. Here’s a tip: don’t read a website run by a rural doctor whose slogan is “wielding the lasso of truth.” Don’t read media rivals sniping at each other, it’s bald men fighting over a comb.
That “rural doctor” slur was a reference to the involvement by Dr. Jen Gunter, a Canadian-trained obstetrician/gynecologist based in San Fransisco: Toronto Star claims HPV vaccine unsafe. Science says the Toronto Star is wrong.
The rest of Mallick’s piece was just as appalling. Mallick also quotes Dr. Ben Goldacre who was NOT HAPPY AT ALL he was used in this way. He took her to task on social media.
And it goes EVERYWHERE in Canada and around the world. (Meanwhile, the measles threat is also major news at the Star.)
“This story is about transparency of information concerning a vaccine that is given to hundreds of thousands of Canadian girls. This story certainly does not conclude that the vaccine caused any of the suspected side effects, and this is made clear throughout. And in fact, it offers several voices and ample evidence that the vaccine is considered by leading health authorities to be safe. The story is neither anti-vaccine nor pro-vaccine. As with many of our other articles published as part of our ongoing investigation into drug safety, this one is mainly about transparency. In this case, transparency for girls and their parents so that they get of all the available risk and benefit information.”
-Toronto Star statement to CBC radio
Many disagree with that statement and note that the science was not rightly considered, but more of an aside to the personal stories.
Oh dear. Finally, it has become too much. The Star publishes a commentary signed by an array of doctors. I don’t see they had much choice but to print it.
Given the power of HPV vaccine to prevent disease and death, a long Toronto Star article that appears to suggest that the HPV vaccine causes harm is troubling and disappointing. Although the article states in the fifth paragraph that “there is no conclusive evidence showing the vaccine caused a death or illness,” its litany of horror stories and its innuendo give the incorrect impression that the vaccine caused the harm.
Very unfortunately, this article may well lead readers to doubt both the scientific evidence and the recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and the Canadian Cancer Society about vaccination.
Really, they need to print a retraction or correction to the original story.