Guest post: The HPV vaccine saves lives

Guest post by David Robert Grimes, first posted on Facebook and posted here by permission.

I like to think I’ve become immune to bad science stories in mainstream media, but every now and then a story so rife with obscene errors and dangerous precedent that it rudely awakens me from my creeping nonchalance. TV3’s abysmal and completely bad faith scaremongering on the HPV vaccine tonight did just that. I’ll be writing one of two longer features on this shortly for a few different publications, but there a few crucial points I think needs to be clarified….

(1) The HPV vaccine saves lives. There are dozens of strains of HPV, and most sexually active adults have at least a few hanging around. Some are benign, harmless. Others cause genital warts. And others still can lead to mutation and induce cancers, usually of the cervix and sometimes of the penis. And yes, these cancers are often fatal. The HPV vaccine saves by preventing these negative consequences.

(2) Every vaccine related “illness” outlined in the ostensible documentary could be much more readily explained by common psychological and physical illnesses. Humans as a rule are bad at cause and effect, and this is no exception. A veritable ton of scientific data exists on the HPV vaccine, including a huge trial published this year. None of these alleged side-effects have been observed in studies to date.

(3) False balance is a thing – the makers of this documentary will no doubt claim that they’re acting in the public interest and presenting “both sides” of a story. This is tangible bullshit which they probably believe themselves. There may well be two sides to any story, but that does not mean those two sides are equal or deserving of equal airtime: If one side is buttressed by vast swathes of evidence and the other totally bereft of it, then it is complete nonsense to paint them as ideas on equal footing. The same staggering stupidity happened with coverage of the MMR vaccine in the early 2000s, and it lead to children dying. In fact, it still bloody well leads to young people dying – Measles infections have broken records each year as the toddlers whose parents refused to get them immunised turn to teens who mingle with no immunity and get infected.

(4) And that brings us to what will happen here – young women will die because their parents watch this kind of nonsense and come away with the false impression that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. Fuck that – if you have kids, please, for the love of Jesus in a fucking batmobile, get them immunised.

I rarely bring up my work here, but having dedicated the last few years of my life to cancer research, I am more familiar than I’d like to be with the negative aspects of this class of disease, and it is simply insane that ill-founded nonsense might cause people to succumb to an illness we have the means to harmlessly avoid. I’m pleading with people not to fall for this bullshit and please do not let it go unchallenged. I’ll link up more when I’ve written it, and am slightly less annoyed.

Dr David Robert Grimes is a physicist and cancer researcher at Oxford University. He is a regular Irish Times columnist and blogs at Twitter: @drg1985. He was a joint winner of the 2014 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science 

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