The mainstream media dropped the ball in the past when it came to Gardasil, and they haven't improved with time. The “Today” Show featured Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC's chief medical editor and a longtime advocate for the vaccine, and Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, somewhat of a skeptic. But the report was by no means balanced.
Dr. Snyderman began promoting the vaccine right out of the gate, saying, “Well It's important because there are 65,000 new cases of cervical cancer every year. We know that Human Papilloma Virus causes cancer of the cervix. We know you that get HPV through sex. So this idea is to give a vaccine to girls before they become sexually active. And it's an anti-cancer vaccine. It's not a pro-sex vaccine. So my view, as a physician is, if you can prevent an illness with a vaccine, why wouldn't you do it if it's safe and effective? And this is safe and effective.”
This misleading statement left out many things. First, Gardasil is not a cancer vaccine, despite how the media has portrayed it. It is a vaccine to prevent HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, but as Dr. Gilberg-Lenz pointed out, most people who have HPV do not get cancer.
Snyderman claimed it is not a “pro-sex vaccine.” But the only reason to administer the vaccine is the assumption that girls will be sexually active. It is an assumption that they are incapable of abstinence. In fact, nobody in the segment mentioned that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid HPV.
And finally, Snyderman declared Gardasil “safe and effective.” Since, as Gilberg-Lenz pointed out, the vaccine only protects against two of the around 10-15 strains of the virus that could cause cancer, Snyderman's calling it “effective” is a considerable overstatement. And her perception of “safe” is rather skewed.
When Ann Curry asked Dr. Snyderman to explain the “worst side-effects, how common are they?” Snyderman side-stepped the question and instead answered, “Well I think we have to look at the most common side-effects.” She listed things like fainting and redness as the most common. She didn't mention other side-effects that have been reported, including "Anaphylactic shock," "foaming at mouth," "grand mal convulsion," "coma," "now paralyzed."
Finally she got around to that other side-effect – death. “Now, what concerns people, and what does come up, is there have been 37 or 38 deaths. And the FDA has looked very, very carefully at these. There has been no proof of the vaccine causing a young woman to die. And sometimes deaths are recorded several days later. But it's important to remember, you can have fish for dinner, and get sick three days later and the question is, did the fish cause you to get sick? And what they're saying this time is, no. There's no proof that this vaccine in fact puts women's lives at risk.”
No. But there is no proof that it does not put women's lives at risk. either. Since when does “safe and effective” include a possible link to death?
Dr. Gilberg-Lenz tried but failed to make this point. Dancing around the issue, she commented, “… you have to understand that the common thread with these 39 deaths has been recent either use or completion of the Gardasil vaccination. I am not saying it caused death. But women are going to have questions about this. And right out the gate when this vaccination came out, I was thrilled. I was excited. And I recommended it. It's not that I don't recommend it. It's that we need to support our patients and their mothers in asking questions.”
When a question was raised about the newness of the vaccine, Snyderman of course defended it, saying three years was plenty of time to see long-term effects. When Gilberg-Lenz attempted to explain that new side-effects can continue to be found years after a medicine is proclaimed safe, Snyderman attacked her.