WorldNetDaily vs. Gardasil
WND finds another vaccine to fearmonger about, this time one that protects against cervical cancer. But to do so, it must rely on fringe medical groups and a man once described as "Austria’s most notorious abortionist."
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily has long fearmongered about vaccines, even promoting the discredited link between vaccines and autism. Over the past several months, though, it has targeted one particular vaccine as it became an issue in the Republican presidential primary.
Gardasil is the first vaccine approved to combat the human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer in women. (It was followed by another HPV vaccine, Cervarix.) Despite apparently isolated reports of side effects, the Centers for Disease Control recommends HPV vaccination for girls as young as 11, as well as for boys and young men in order to protect against some genital warts.
WND was quick to attack Gardasil when it became an issue in the presidential campaign. In a July 11 column explaining why Rick Perry can beat President Obama in the 2012 election, Joseph Farah also took time to list a few of Perry's "mistakes":
One of the biggest came in 2007 when he signed an executive order that required every sixth-grade girl in Texas to be vaccinated for the HPV virus a sexually transmitted disease. He needs to explain clearly why this was a mistake he will never make as governor again, nor as president.
Farah does not explain why trying to prevent cervical cancer is a "mistake." Nor did he mention why Perry issued the order: because HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer and, according to Perry, "The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer."
Farah weirdly suggested that the HPV vaccination is somehow icky because it's a "sexually transmitted disease." Farah also ignored the reason sixth-grade girls are being targeted -- because the vaccine being used, Gardasil, works best before a person has contact with HPV, a roundabout way of saying that one should be vaccinated before they become sexually active.
When it became an issue a few months later, when candidate Michele Bachmann criticized Perry's stance on Gardasil and then claimed that she was told by a mother that her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of the vaccine, WND was ready to ratchet up the fearmongering.
Bob Unruh wrote in an Sept. 27 WorldNetDaily article that "Of the 35 million doses of Gardasil distributed in the U.S., only about 0.05 percent of individuals who have been vaccinated have reported some kind of side effect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," but then added:
But it sounds so different when you refer to a paltry 0.05 percent of a large number of people rather than explaining just what happened to the 17,500 individuals who have suffered side effects like Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Bell's Palsy and even death.
Unruh added that "critics of Perry point out that the vaccine is supposed to address a disease only transmitted by sexual activity, and the issue isn't the mundane, clinical argument that Gardasil supporters portray."
Unruh cited "a campaign called Truth About Gardasil" as claiming that "at least 103" people have been killed by Gardasil, as well as a laundry list of side effects: "seizures, strokes, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, headaches, stomach pains, vomiting, muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, auto-immune problems, chest pains, hair loss, appetite loss, personality changes, insomnia, hand/leg tremors, arm/leg weakness, shortness of breath, heart problems, paralysis, itching, rashes, swelling, aching muscles, pelvic pain, nerve pain, menstrual cycle changes, fainting, swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, nausea, temporary vision/hearing loss just to name some of them!"
Unruh offers no evidence that the 103 deaths have been medically verified -- indeed, the Truth About Gardasil website appears not to offer any such verification -- noting only that "the government itself has documented deaths from reactions to the vaccine, although the total doesn't match the blog's claim of fatalities." Unruh is understating the case; in fact, as of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control lists just 71 deaths among patients taking Gardisil, and no direct link has ever been established between Gardasil and patient deaths:
As of September 15, 2011, there have been a total 71 VAERS reports of death among those who have received Gardasil®. There were 57 reports among females, 3 were among males, and 11 were reports of unknown gender. Thirty four of the total death reports have been confirmed and 37 remain unconfirmed due to no identifiable patient information in the report such as a name and contact information to confirm the report. A death report is confirmed (verified) after a medical doctor reviews the report and any associated records. In the 34 reports confirmed, there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine and some reports indicated a cause of death unrelated to vaccination.
Clark Baker of the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice said the performance of the Gardasil product itself doesn't matter much.
Unruh doesn't explain what the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice is or does. Turns out this official-sounding organization is a fringe group that still believes vaccines cause autism and is promoting a video claiming that HIV and AIDS really don't exist.
Unruh also argued that people don't need the HPV vaccine because icky sex is involved: "But critics of Perry point out that the vaccine is supposed to address a disease only transmitted by sexual activity, and the issue isn't the mundane, clinical argument that Gardasil supporters portray."
Unruh then quotes a report from something called the Alliance for Human Research Protection, which claims to speak out on "issues affecting the safety of people in clinical trials," to attack the very idea of the need for an HPV vaccine, largely because of that icky sex stuff:
"Mandatory vaccination against HPV is unsupportable. HPV is not communicable in a school setting it is communicated only by sexual contact. The condition human papilloma virus (HPV) is present in 50 percent of the sexually active population. HPV does NOT automatically develop into cancer in the overwhelming majority of the population. HPV is mostly benign no treatment needed," the organization said.
The next day, Unruh wrote an article uncriticially repeating claims by right-wing group Judicial Watch regarding deaths purportedly linked to the vaccine Gardasil, which aims to guard against a form of cervical cancer. As before, Unruh failed to report that no direct link has ever been established between Gardasil and patient deaths.
In both articles, Unruh failed to offer any context to the purported adverse events linked to Gardasil -- namely, how they compare the rate of adverse reactions of other vaccines.. One right-wing columnist suggests that serious adverse effects from the Gardasil vaccine occur at a rate of 12 per 100,000 doses; by contrast, gastrointestinal bleeding in children taking ibuprofen occurs at a rate of 17 per 100,000 doses.
Unruh scrounged up a supposed expert to keep up the fearmongering in an Oct. 2 article:
Dr. Christian Fiala, who successfully fought the use of the drug in Austria, told WND this week "there is no proof of a causal relationship of HPV and cervical cancer (correlation is not necessarily causation) and there is no evidence that HPV vaccine reduces the overall number of cervical cancer (cases)."
Unruh doesn't tell us anything more about Fiala than that. Which is too bad, because it's a fascinating story. First up, Fiala performs abortions in Austria -- making for a very strange bedfellow for WND -- which counts among its columnists the anti-abortion extremist Janet Porter -- on this story.
After claiming without evidence that Fiala's escorts "sexually abuse male and female protestors under his supervision," the article serves up this description of Fiala:
The most notorious and well-known abortionist in Austria, Dr. Christian Fiala has made his life’s work the advancement of abortion in Austria and Europe. He is the chairman of the International Association of Abortion and Contraception Specialists and directs the well-known Gynmed abortion clinics in Vienna and Salzburg. Fiala’s brainchild, the Museum of Abortion and Contraception opened in Vienna in March 2007, and catalogues a history of human effort through the ages devoted to suppressing or destroying the next generation of human life in the womb.
Why would WND team up with an apparently notorious abortion doctor? The rest of Fiala's record may provide an answer to his appeal to WND.
Fiala's denial of the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine is of a piece with his views on HIV and AIDS. In a 2003 article, Fiala claimed that the rate of HIV and AIDS in Africa was grossly overstated because "the major symptom criteria in the African definition for AIDS" is the same as for diarrhea. Similarly, he has claimed that there is no heterosexual AIDS epidemic in Africa because the population of Uganda has continued to increase despite large numbers of claimed HIV cases there, stating that "the almost hysterical focus on HIV/AIDS in Africa has done much harm over the last two decades."
According an article at the HIV-denying Office of Medical and Scientific Justice, Fiala also appears in a documentary that claims to "poses basic concerns about the actual definitions of those acronyms, the reliability and meaning of HIV tests, the difficulty of HIV transmission, the isolation of HIV, and whether the drugs prescribed to people said to be 'HIV-positive' actually extend their lives or hasten their deaths."
Unruh returned with an Oct. 10 article featuring a claim from some obscure magazine in New Zealand that side effects attributed to Gardasil "could be the result of contamination in the vaccine." Unruh wrote that the claim is based on work by "a testing company, S.A.N.E.VAX, Inc."
In fact, S.A.N.E.VAX is not "a testing company" -- it's an anti-vaccine activist group. It has repeatedly defended Andrew Wakefield, whose claim that vaccines cause autism have been retracted and discredited by the medical journal that first published his research. The SANE Vax website features interviews of Wakefield conducted by conspiracy-monger Alex Jones. Another article touts how SANE Vax members traveled to London and "had an opportunity to privately discuss vaccine concerns with Dr. Andrew Wakefield." Yet another post repeats an attack on an Australian news show on vaccines, which includes this irresponsible claim (bolding is theirs):
Not vaccinating a child is playing Russian Roulette with your child’s life. Untrue: Morbidity (chronic illness and disability) is as much an indicator of children’s health as mortality (death). Mainstream science states chemicals have toxic effects on human health and vaccines inject many chemicals into the bloodstream of developing infants. This correlates with the significant increase in chronic illness in this generation of children. The opposite is true vaccinating children is playing Russian roulette with children’s lives due to individual genetics.
This is who WND considers an authority on vaccination issues.
Unruh added another hysterical voice, anti-Kinsey obsessive Judith Reisman, to the anti-vaccine debate:
Dr. Judith Reisman, in residence at Liberty University and the author of multiple books on the issue of sexuality, told WND that STD vaccines are simply "assaults on our humanity, especially that of youth.
Unruh repeated the claim that "18,000" side effects have been reported from taking HPV vaccines without putting the number in context of doses administered or noting how that number compares with other vaccines or medicines.
Joe Kovacs ratcheted up the fearmongering in an Oct. 19 article carrying the inflammatory headline "U.S. girls just dropping dead." That, of course, is not a remotely accurate portrayal of reality; Kovacs simply rehashed WND's previous scare tactics of highlighting adverse reactions to Gardasil without offering any context of how they compare with other vaccines.
Kovacs claimed that, according to another fringe group, the right-wing Judicial Watch, "26 additional deaths" were "caused by the shot." Again, no such judgment has definitively been made. In fact, Kovacs conceded later in the article that the Centers for Disease Control -- an actual medical authority, unlike WND or Judicial Watch -- has found "no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths" to suggest they were caused by the vaccine.
WND editor Joseph Farah joined the paranoia in a Oct. 27 column complaining that the "Big Media" has cast Bachmann "in the unfavorable light of the anti-science zealot" for raising questions about Gardasil. He then joined Bachmann in anti-science zealot land by repeating unverified claims of "adverse reactions" to the vaccine and asserting that "no one is even sure whether the drug, peddled by Merck, is even effective at preventing HPV and, thus, reducing cervical cancer."
Later, Farah asserted again that "some doctors have even challenge the link between HPV and cervical cancer." But the only doctor WND has cited by name as making that claim is "notorious abortionist" Christian Fiala.
Farah also took a unrealistic view of adolescence by claiming, "HPV, like all other sexually transmitted diseases, can be prevented 100 percent of the time simply through abstinence from promiscuous sex by teenage girls." That fixation on female behavior -- Farah makes no mention of the role teenage boys play in spreading HPV -- is reminiscent of WND's obsession with female teachers who have sex with their students, which similarly ignores the behavior of male teachers.
WND has no interest in fairly reporting the facts about Gardasil -- it's simply engaging in some very desperate fearmongering. Maybe Merck should sue WND for defamation; if WND's own lawsuit against Esquire magazine is a guide, Merck just might win.