Intended for healthcare professionals

Analysis

Challenges of independent assessment of potential harms of HPV vaccines

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3694 (Published 24 September 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3694

HPV vaccine: news management vs. public safety and the right to know?

Seven weeks after its courageous publication, this paper [1] has received relatively little attention even in these columns, but I thought of it when I saw an article in the Mail on Sunday a couple of days ago: 'Outcry as boys' HPV 'catch-up' is rejected by the government as Health Secretary and Vaccines Minister stop the extension'. People are being told they desperately need this product, pressure is brought to bear on government ministers, it is even - horror of horrors - an issue of gender equality. Under the article I left the two line comment (which remarkably has survived):

"A greater right than having this vaccine would be knowing about it. The medical research world is in upheaval over this vaccine - the Cochrane Group has split and yet the public must not be told."

To an earlier generation of journalists the split in Cochrane [3] and the attack on HPV vaccine safety by senior scientists [1,4] would be attention grabbing headlines, and rightly so. As it is, can health professionals - if they have managed to inform themselves adequately - properly tell their patients that these products are "safe" or even that "the benefits greatly outweigh the risks" (the usual rubric)? If the news media was not in breakdown everyone would be told, and not just those who have their noses buried in medical journals: ordinary citizens have a right to know - it affects them. Indeed, with this amount of justified doubt should not the products simply be withdrawn?

[1] Lars Jørgensen, Peter Doshi, Peter Gøtzsche, Tom Jefferson, 'Challenges of independent assessment of potential harms of HPV vaccines', BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3694 (Published 24 September 2018)
[2] David Rose, 'Outcry as boys' HPV 'catch-up' is rejected by the government as Health Secretary and Vaccines Minister stop the extension', 10 November 2018, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6375239/Outcry-boys-HPV-catch...
[3] Nigel Hawkes, 'Cochrane director’s expulsion results in four board members resigning', BMJ 2018; 362 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3945 (Published 17 September 2018)
[4] Jørgensen L, Gøtzsche PC, Jefferson T.'The Cochrane HPV vaccine review was incomplete and ignored important evidence of bias', BMJ Evid Based Med. 2018 Oct;23(5):165-168. doi: 10.1136/bmjebm-2018-111012. Epub 2018 Jul 27

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 November 2018
John Stone
UK Editor
AgeofAutism.com
London N22