We’ve previously discussed the whole “oh-my-god-vaccines-are-terrible” carry-on that seems to have gripped the popular Luddite imagination since, well, since vaccines were basically invented. Well, they’ve been at it again. This time the controversy has related to the tragically young death of a teenager in New Zealand, who died some three months — yes three months — after completing the three-dose vaccination programme for cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. Her distraught parents blamed the vaccine for their daughter’s death. And they had some neurocientists along at the inquest to support their case. Apparently, the vaccine may have used a Trojan horse and snuck into the girl’s brain… etc. etc.
Gratifyingly, some actual scientists also had a say:
Helen Petousis-Harris, of Auckland University’s Immunisation Advisory Centre, said yesterday that the arguments put forward by the doctors were convoluted and not based on scientific evidence…The doctors’ studies into the links between aluminium levels, Gardasil and cervical cancer risks were shaky at best, Dr Petousis-Harris said. “You start making a statement about something that may or may not be true, then start drawing these conclusions and assumptions without having any data. “Then you keep going, and the more you keep going, the more difficult it becomes to substantiate.” It was important to discuss the weaknesses in the research so parents and possible vaccine recipients had all the information, she said. “I was deeply disappointed to see conjecture and pseudoscience used in that forum in an attempt to bring a vaccine with such an excellent safety profile into question.”
Of course, as well as the entire anti-science conspiracy theory regarding vaccination, scare stories about HPV tend to have socially conservative underpinnings to boot. You see, most types of HPV are transmitted through sexual contact, so these young girls wouldn’t really need to be vaccinated if they could just manage to preserve their chastity until the Holy Spirit binds them matrimonially to a suitably god-fearing partner and tells them they are good to go (thereby saving them an afterlife of hell into the bargain). It is a short leap of some imaginations to then argue that the mere availability of HPV vaccination CAUSES YOUNG YOUNG GIRLS TO HAVE SEX!
It is no surprise that the world’s socially conservative media tend to be at the forefront pushing this particular anti-vaccination scare. Like the Daily Mail in the UK, for example. But let’s not accuse the Mail of single-standards on this issue. Ever-principled, the Mail got itself into a twist some years back by simultaneously campaigning both for and against the provision of HPV vaccination to young girls. Woah.
In the tragic New Zealand case, we await the publication of the coroner’s findings. Full story is here.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.