"Is Katie Couric the next Jenny McCarthy?" asks an accusatory headline on TIME.com. The question is one some are asking after the news anchor-turned-daytime talk show host ran a lead segment on her show, Katie, about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine yesterday. Surprise, surprise -- Katie's critical look at the vax is being slammed.
Katie had two mothers as her guests on the show: Emily Tarsell, a mother who says the death of her daughter, Christina, was caused by the HPV vaccine Gardasil in 2008, and a mother and daughter, Rosemary and Lauren Mathis, who believe Lauren developed a bizarre illness characterized by nausea and fatigue due to the vaccine. (Rosemary Mathis is now the director of the anti-HPV organization, SaneVax, Inc.) As you might imagine, these women have a serious bone to pick with the vaccine, and they're not alone.
There are plenty of fears and questions about the safety and side effects associated with the vaccine. In 2008, only 4.5 percent of parents listed safety concerns as a reason for their daughter to avoid the shot. But by 2010, that number skyrocketed to 16 percent. Perhaps this is due to a dose of healthy skepticism ... and/or reported side effects.
Many Gardasil recipients experience redness, soreness, and fainting after the vaccine, which is considered normal. But thousands of women have also reported even more disturbing complications, such as crippling fatigue, paralysis, blindness, or autoimmune complications, and some have even died, according to CDC and FDA data. And "more than 70 healthy young girls have died from a neurological reaction that occurred soon after getting Gardasil," says vaccine developer Diane M. Harper, M.D., who received funding from Merck and GlaxoSmithKline for research on their HPV vaccines.
As for efficacy, more than 100 strains of HPV exist, 30 of them are associated with cervical cancer, and the vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) target just two types -- numbers 16 and 18 -- which are thought to be major root causes of cervical cancer, says Harper. And when Harper appeared on Katie's show, she explained that the the vaccine loses efficacy after five years (a claim that is being refuted and attacked as false, dangerous, and negligent). But because slow-growing cervical cancer takes ages to develop, any vaccine would need to be 100 percent effective for at least 15 years to truly prevent the disease.
All of that said, cervical cancer can be prevented without the shot -- by having regular Pap tests.
Thus, it's okay to wonder whether or not the shot is absolutely necessary. And yet, for allowing these women to voice their grievances and openly question the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine, Katie is now being slammed as irresponsible. Ridiculous.
It's not like the segment came out swinging against ALL vaccines -- or even painted a completely one-sided story about the HPV vax. Couric was merely spurring debate about one, relatively new vaccine, which is not necessarily the miracle they'd have us believe. It's her job as a journalist to start a conversation, to ask questions, to shed light where it hasn't been shed before. And when it comes to something like this vaccine, which is understandably controversial, thorough investigation of BOTH sides of the issue is something we should all be doing before getting stuck with a needle.
What do you think about Katie's coverage of the HPV vaccine? Have you gotten it or had your children get it -- why or why not?
Image via KatieCouric.com