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Opinion | HPV vaccine article shows a strong bias and only one side

By Ben Meacham
On March 14, 2014

I am responding to the editorial "Leading HPV vaccines are not entirely effective, consumers should remain aware" published in The Miami Student by Nicole Theodore on March 7.

My response aims to highlight the one-sidedness of the argument presented in the piece. To begin, the article references a Dr. Diane Harper, who gave a speech that "shocked the audience" at the International Conference on Vaccination in regards to the effects of Gardasil and Cervarix. What the author failed to include was the fact that the International Conference on Vaccination is hosted by the National Vaccine Information Center, a well-known anti-vaccination organization. Clearly, this speech must have not been too "shocking" if it was being presented at an anti-vaccine conference.

In regards to Dr. Diane Harper, the apparent "lead researcher" of HPV named in the article, it seems that both sides of her story were not considered. Yes, she has spoken out against the use of the HPV vaccine in regards to its effectiveness, but she also authored several papers in scientific journals describing the vaccination as "safe" prior to her later contradiction. In an interview with CBS she even implied that the risks of the vaccine are actually quite small by saying, "if we vaccinate 11 year olds and the protection doesn't last... we've put them at harm from side effects, small but real, for no benefit."

This leads to the third part of Nicole's article that is not fully telling of the truth. The side effects and reported deaths of the HPV vaccines are not verified, including the reports of Gullian Barre Syndrome mentioned in the article. All vaccine adverse effects are reported through a service called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The adverse effect reports for vaccines are made public, but it must be made clear that these reports are unverified. On the VAERS website, it is stated that although the data is made public, "the report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event." All reports are evaluated by the CDC, which ultimately determines through strict procedure if a cause-and-effect relationship exists between the vaccine and reported effect.

Katie Couric, an anchor for CBS news, aired a story on her show "Katie" regarding the HPV vaccine controversy. The episode focused primarily on the adverse effects of the vaccine. After the show, Katie Couric authored a blog post in the Huffington Post about the segment stating, "We simply spent too much time on the serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine." She then went on to discuss the benefits of receiving an HPV vaccine.

Put simply, Nicole's story was not an accurate representation of what is really going on. There is a plethora of data supporting the use of the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines as a way to prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer. The vaccine has been deemed safe by the CDC, which actively monitors all adverse event reports. If the vaccines were not safe, they simply would not still be on the market. The evidence to suggest that the vaccines are not safe is quite unsubstantial.

Nicole should not be faulted for the article she wrote. Many anti-vaccine activists and organizations flood the airwaves with inaccurate information everyday. However, vaccines are essential to keeping the community safe. It goes without saying that immunization has changed the world in regards to disease control, and the CDC has been more than an avid participant in this effort. We must not discredit the CDC due to misleading anti-vaccine information. I respect Nicole's opinion, but it is necessary to represent both sides of this controversial story.

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