Networks Share the Love for Risky Kids’ HPV Vaccine

When a recent study demonstrated that HPV infections dropped more than half for teenage girls, the networks credited Merck’s Gardasil vaccine. The vaccine, a series of three shots targeting girls as young as 9-years-old, protects against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can evolve into cervical cancer or other health dangers.

After U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted the 56 percent HPV drop in teenaged girls, the networks burst with admiration for Gardasil – while censoring the potentially lethal side effects and the moral objections to preemptively treating sexually inactive young girls for an STD. Noting the “striking findings,” CBS’ Norah O’Donnell asked during “This Morning” on June 20, “This is a big development because the drop is so dramatic, right?” Her interviewee, Dr. Carol Brown, strung along the praise, calling the “breakthrough” evidence of the “really effective” vaccine: “if we could vaccinate all these girls, we would be able to wipe it [cervical cancer] out.”

The night before, O’Donnell’s colleage Scott Pelley had also called the findings on June 19’s “Evening News” when he explained, “We saw some striking findings” on the HPV vaccine. Continuing the strain, CBS’s “Morning News” on June 20 noted, via Marlie Hall, that the vaccine was controversial – but not because of any side effects. Rather, the said conflict arose from the discussion of injecting both girls and boys at a young age (11-12-years-old).

Although CBS led in frequency of coverage, ABC and NBC chimed in as well. “Good Morning America’s” Josh Elliot called the study “important medical news for parents of young girls” on June 20. He quoted the head of the CDC, saying the find was a “wake-up call for more vaccinations.” NBC’s Brian Williams, during “Nightly News,” also cited the CDC, calling Gardasil “very effective” on June 19 for both men and women – or rather, boys and girls.

Traveling back to April 6, ABC’s Erica Hill’r report connected the dots when she reported on birth control’s availability to 11-year-old girls. During “Today,” she worried, “There is some concern that maybe this sends the wrong message about sex.” Dr. Laura Corio, also present, searched for the right response, and landed upon Gardasil: “It doesn’t send the wrong message about sex. It’s the same thing as when they put the Gardasil vaccine out for HPV and a lot of the parents were like, ‘Oh, that encourages the young girls to have sex.’ But it really doesn’t encourage them.”

Never mind that a top Gardasil researcher and Merck consultant who, in an unusual move, advocated for parents and young girls to receive more information in 2009 about the risks Gardasil poses – one of them being death. Dr. Diane Harper noted the absence of evidence that the vaccine lasts after 5 years so that, when doctors vaccinate 11-year-olds, “we've put them at harm from side effects, small but real, for no benefit” – side effects often more dangerous than the prevention itself. What’s more, she commented on a study which related: “The rate of serious adverse events [from Gardasil are] on par with the death rate of cervical cancer.”

Harper attributed the small number of deaths from cervical cancer, usually caused by HPVinfection, to Pap screening programs rather than Gardasil. Because of Gardasil’s marketing scheme, that number might rise, as Harper blamed, “The future expectations women hold because they have received free doses of Gardasil purchased by philanthropic foundations, by public health agencies or covered by insurance is the true threat to cervical cancer in the future. Should women stop Pap screening after vaccination, the cervical cancer rate will actually increase per year.” 

Dr. Peter Lind noted in the Washington Times earlier this year that the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recently lost almost $6 million in response to 49 victims’ complaints claims against HPV vaccines. Between 2010 and 2011, there were 26 deaths reported in correlation with Gardasil in addition to seizures, paralysis, blindness, pancreatitis, speech problems, short term memory loss and Guillain-Barré Syndrome – all this according to the FDA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. 

“That’s 26 reported deaths of young, previously healthy, girls after Gardasil vaccination in just one year,” Lind summarized, before concluding, “HPV vaccines have been illegally administered to millions without informed consent, as the risks rarely disclosed.” 

The networks can’t excuse themselves from the blame as they rarely reported on the dangerous side effects of Gardasil when it began trending. Both NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman and CBS’ Katie Couric advocated for the vaccine. Even the Washington Post proved an ally – whether by supporting a Gardasil mandate for schoolgirls or by skimming over fatalities. USA Today joined their ranks as well.

Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture at the Media Research Center