ABC Wakes Up, Reports Gardasil Dangers

Having the New England Journal of Medicine publish a strong editorial cautioning the medical community about Gardasil was apparently the kick in the pants ABC News needed to report, finally, on the risks associated with the widely promoted drug.  Gardasil is used as a vaccine against certain strains of a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer.

The network has been behind the curve in reporting any negative news about the HPV vaccine Gardasil, as CMI has documented previously.  Just last week this author noted that the network was being out-reported by its local affiliates on the subject.  However, ABC has just offered a one-two punch in a 12-hour window, with Gardasil stories on both the August 20 broadcast of World News with Charles Gibson and the August 21 broadcast of Good Morning America.

The impetus for both stories was an editorial titled “Human Papillomavirus Vaccination – Reasons for Caution,” which was published August 21 by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).  According to the editorial,

Despite great expectations and promising results of clinical trials, we still lack sufficient evidence of an effective vaccine against cervical cancer. Several strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer, and two vaccines directed against the currently most important oncogenic strains (i.e., the HPV-16 and HPV-18 serotypes) have been developed. That is the good news. The bad news is that the overall effect of the vaccines on cervical cancer remains unknown. As Kim and Goldie1 point out in this issue of the Journal, the real impact of HPV vaccination on cervical cancer will not be observable for decades.

ABC reporter Sharyn Alfonsi reported the story on World News and also included information the network had failed to report until now: that serious side effects are also associated with the Gardasil vaccine.  As CMI reported last month, much of the liberal media has failed to report on information uncovered by Judicial Watch about the more than 9,000 cases of side effects linked to the vaccine, which include paralysis and death.

Following Alfonsi's taped package, World News anchor Charles Gibson interviewed the network's medical editor, Dr. Timothy Johnson, about the NEJM editorial and the efficacy of the vaccine.  Johnson's strongest statement came in calling for a slow down in the effort of “mass vaccination.”

Gibson: Were we too quick to embrace this vaccine?

Johnson: Well I think the company did a very effective job of glossing over these questions in its marketing campaign and convincing the public that this vaccine would indeed prevent cervical cancer.  As Sharyn rightly points out, that simply has not been proven long term.  So I think we have to be more cautious especially about mass vaccination programs, for example required for school entry. I'd also say, Charlie, that any parent, who after reading and thinking about it, wants to adopt a wait and see attitude, that parent should not be criticized.

Johnson repeated the same caution on Good Morning America.

The marketing campaign Johnson refers to is the “One Less” campaign by Merck, the maker of Gardasil.  The company has commercials running on television and in movie theaters, and a print campaign that targets many mass-market magazines.  What Johnson didn't mention was Merck's push on the legislative front in states around the country to institute mandatory vaccination for girls entering middle school.  Currently Virginia is the only state with a mandatory vaccination requirement, though the state legislature did provide an opt-out provision for parents. Several other states are considering mandatory vaccination laws.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.