Especially after working for so many years alongside the big drug companies working health legislation in the Senate, and after later policy work for private companies that made the point again that Big Pharma doesn’t always act scrupulously (remember Oraflex?), I’m no particular fan of the big companies.
But I am a big fan of getting the facts before making claims against them. I also stand in awe of the accomplishments of medicine, including Big Pharma, in so many areas. My oldest brother had polio as a kid, and it haunted him to his death. Polio vaccine was a great advance. I survived a bout of scarlet fever as an infant, but as a result I am particularly vulnerable to certain infections now; I stand in awe of a $10 prescription that literally saves my life.
Get the facts. We’re talking saving lives here — be sure you’re accurate.
There is a nasty campaign against modern medicine claiming that vaccines and other injectable preventives do not work, or do much greater harm than is revealed.
One victim of this unholy smear campaign is the Merck Drug company, and its anti-cancer vaccine Gardasil. This vaccine has been the topic of much controversy here in Texas. I’ve written about it before.
So I was shocked once again browsing Neil Simpson’s blog (looking for a post that disappeared, it now seems), to discover this statement of concern from Mr. Simpson:
Gardasil Moms: If one of those 32 dead girls or women was your daughter. . . – I wouldn’t rush out and get the vaccine for your girls just yet.
32 dead girls from the vaccine? Mr. Simpson fails to tell the whole story. Here’s what CDC actually said:
As of December 31, 2008, there have been 32 U.S. reports of death among females who have received the vaccine. There was no common pattern to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine. [emphasis added]
This isn’t the first time opponents of Gardasil have failed to report accurately the deaths accounted for in the trials and use of the drug. In previous outings, critics of the drug have done such bizarre things as counting deaths of people who never took the drug, as deaths perhaps caused by the drug.
For example, from the numbers available when I wrote about this in May 2007:
- Of the 17 deaths reported in the clinical trials, 7 of them came from the placebo group. That’s right: Only 59% of the reported deaths were in the group that got Gardasil. 41% of the reported deaths came from people who had received no Gardasil vaccine.
- 7 of the deaths were from auto accidents, 4 in the Gardasil group, 3 in the placebo group.
- Most of the deaths were from causes generally thought to be unrelated to to Gardasil, including suicide and cancer.
Don’t you think that, in blaming deaths on a dosage of a vaccine, one should not count deaths to people who did not get the vaccine? So, can we trust numbers from a slander campaign that keeps repeating falsehoods for two years, though the data are freely available?
If you check the Gardasil site now, you’ll find more deaths have been added. Merck follows up reports of problems, and they update the information when they can, as required by law.
There are now 24 deaths reported in Merck’s literature, 16 in the Gardasil group, and 9 in the control group; the Gardasil deaths have risen to 64% of total deaths; some new causes are added in. But there is no glaring indictment of Gardasil, and it still seems to me to be rather unethical to claim, as Simpson’s source does, that deaths by auto accident can be attributable to Gardasil, especially when an almost equal number of auto accident deaths occurred in the control group.
Here is what the CDC says, unedited:
Reports to VAERS Following HPV Vaccination
As of December 31, 2008, more than 23 million doses of Gardasil were distributed in the United States.
As of December 31, 2008, there were 11,916 VAERS reports of adverse events following Gardasil vaccination in the United States. Of these reports, 94% were reports of events considered to be non-serious, and 6% were reports of events considered to be serious.
Based on all of the information we have today, CDC continues to recommend Gardasil vaccination for the prevention of 4 types of HPV. As with all approved vaccines, CDC and FDA will continue to closely monitor the safety of Gardasil. Any problems detected with this vaccine will be reported to health officials, healthcare providers, and the public, and needed action will be taken to ensure the public’s health and safety.
23 million doses of the vaccine, high efficacy in preventing cancer and genital warts, only 6% serious events reported, no deaths that doctors can connect to the vaccine.
In the time Simpson writes about, several thousand women died of cervical cancer; he’s posing 32 deaths unrelated to the vaccine and saying it’s dangerous, when the facts show exactly the opposite. Is that ethical?
It’s creationism syndrome: Religionists decide on their conclusions, sometimes supported by scripture, but sometimes also supported by misreadings of scripture; then they set off in search of evidence to support their pre-conceived conclusion, and they step over real data and alter evidence to make sure their pre-conceived conclusions get the support.
In other words, they use doctored data. Neil Simpson’s sources are using doctored data again. Shame on them. I’m sure he’ll correct it in his blog.
Update, May 3: Simpson has not corrected his blog yet. As an indicator of the issues at stake, you may want to look at CDC figures on cervical cancers, many of which are prevented completely by Gardasil. Actually trends on the disease are encouraging:
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. This decline largely is the result of many women getting regular Pap tests, which can find cervical precancer before it turns into cancer.1
According to the U.S. Cancer Statistics: 2005 Incidence and Mortality Web site, 11,999 women in the U.S. were told that they had cervical cancer in 2005,* and 3,924 women died from the disease.2 It is estimated that more than $2 billion† is spent on the treatment of cervical cancer per year in the U.S.3
Cervical cancer strikes disproportionately at minority women:
Even though these trends suggest that cervical cancer incidence and mortality continue to decrease significantly overall, and for women in some racial and ethnic populations, the rates are considerably higher among Hispanic and African-American women. Find more information about cervical cancer rates by race and ethnicity.
- Cervical cancer preventable, but still a major killer (470,000 diagnoses worldwide in 2008; more than 200,000 deaths); New York Times
- Jane Brody’s column, “HPV Vaccine: Few Risks, Many Benefits”