Katie Couric tries and fails to undo the damage
I’ve shied away from the Katie Couric/HPV vaccination thing because it’s been covered by luminaries too numerous to list. However, I have noticed a defensive post regarding her misleading show on her website, and I feel compelled to address it, because it suggests that Ms. Couric and company simply do not get it. Among other things, the post states:
While many appreciated us raising the topic, others were critical of us for providing what they felt was a disproportionate amount of time to two families who faced the rare circumstances of seeing their children’s health deteriorate after receiving Gardasil. The health problems may or may not be linked to the vaccine.
This suggests that Couric show personnel still believe they were responsible in having these families on to discuss what they think were adverse reactions to the vaccine. The problems here are several-fold. First, the emotional testimony of these families is not scientific fact, but it does pack a wallop that panders to fear. The HPV vaccine has been shown many times to be safe and effective, period. The direct appeal to emotion such as presented on Couric’s show can often have the effect of over-riding logic and common sense, even if factually correct data are presented immediately following these statements.
We believe this is an important topic for discussion and wanted to share multiple viewpoints, so we included the doctor who oversaw the clinical trials of Gardasil, and who shared the clinical trial results that the vaccine only provides protection for a finite amount of time. She also questioned, given the overall success of Pap testing to screen for cervical cancer, whether the vaccine is necessary or just optional.
I am sure this is just an error on behalf of Couric’s staff, but Diane Harper is not “the doctor who oversaw the clinical trials of Gardasil”. She is one doctor who oversaw trials of Gardasil. There are many, many others out there, along with other scientists who have been actively investigating vaccine efficacy and safety. Why not bring them on the show, too? Ms. Couric could start with Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar and colleagues, who demonstrated that Gardasil may likely be protective for at least 8 years post-vaccination. At least. And that actually might be enough to get someone who is vaccinated through one of the most dangerous periods for HPV infection–the teenage years.
Further, if Ms. Couric really wanted “multiple viewpoints”, and she really wanted passionate anecdotes, then she should have considered having a person on the show who has or has had an HPV-related cancer. It’s quite difficult to fight emotion with science, so why not present the emotion of the “other side”? How about inviting Michael Douglas on the show, for example? The post goes on to state:
We do not want to leave our viewers with an irrational fear of the vaccine and for that reason we’re going to continue the conversation and invite a number of medical experts, journalists and scientists to weigh in here, on our site. We’ll keep you posted!
To this I say, it is TOO LATE, Ms. Couric. You presented irrational information about HPV vaccination, and now you wonder why there are irrational fears? Judging by the comments on your Facebook page, you have successfully “converted” people against HPV vaccination by failing to provide all of the facts, and by your reliance on anecdotes. Once a person has made a decision based on emotion, it is nearly impossible to pry them away from it. You obviously still have no idea of the damage that you have done, but you may get a glimpse of it when the “conversation continues”.