Katie Couric riled up the internet last week with her uncritical promotion of anti-vaccine viewpoints on her talk show. It was certainly a twist in the professional narrative of a woman who has undergone televised colonoscopy and mammography to promote cancer awareness. That awareness should have been front-and-center in her discussion of HPV vaccines as well, since HPV infection can lead to cancers of anywhere people put their genitals. Instead, Couric featured two mothers convinced that HPV vaccines had caused death and injury, respectively, to their daughters. On Respectful Insolence, Orac writes “the entire segment was structured as a ‘he said, she said’ tour de force of false ‘balance,'” with anecdotal tragedies playing offense against hard science and common sense. On Aetiology, Tara Smith criticizes one of the show’s “experts” who claimed that Pap smears obviate the need for HPV vaccination. Tara writes, “This, frankly, is hogwash. Even with emphasis on screening, here in the U.S. we have 12,000 cases and 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer alone each year.” Now Couric has issued a guarded apology for the episode, but still refuses to acknowledge what is scientifically undisputed. Vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix are safe; they prevent a sexually transmitted disease; and they prevent cancers that can result from that disease. Meanwhile talk shows like Katie must Ozzify their medical science in order to attract and entertain an audience.
On ERV, Abbie Smith reports on the phenomenal success of the HPV vaccine in Australia. The vaccine, designed to protect against several types of sexually-transmitted papillomavirus, was first administered to Aussie girls in 2007. Since then, total prevalence of the virus among young women has dropped from 11.5% to less than 1%—and to 0% among girls who actually got the vaccine. These girls are also protecting their partners and reducing overall circulation of HPV; infections among young men, who were not even vaccinated, dropped from 12.1 to 2.2 percent. Abbie calls this a “blatant, obvious example of herd immunity in action!” On Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist recently stood up for science against the false equivalence of “tell both sides” journalism in Sweden, where the HPV vaccine is offered to all twelve year old girls. Martin acknowledges the vaccine is not 100% effective, and there are very rare cases of adverse side-effects, but the same is true of any vaccine.