+44(0)208 9952500 karen.stancombe@lionsdencommunications.com LionsDen Communications Lionsden medical John Clare

Media role as scaremonger or watchdog?

We now know that 14 year old Natalie Morton did not die of a reaction to Cervarix, but of a previously undiagnosed tumour. Much UK media coverage was balanced, but yet again the Daily Mail led the scaremongering campaign.

Faced with a choice between reassuring the paper’s 6 million (mostly female) readers based on a chorus of experts saying the vaccine is safe, and scaring them with a year-old quote from a previously unknown researcher, the paper came up with a masterpiece of mixed messages and managed to ride both horses at once, while clearly backing the scaremongers.

In the highly charged atmosphere following Natalie’s tragic death, the paper revived a story from a researcher at the University of Missouri-Kansas who claimed the jab’s benefits had been ‘exaggerated’. This gave the impression that she was questioning the vaccine’s safety…quite a claim given the circumstances.

In fact, close reading revealed that she was claiming the benefits might not last as long as claimed, and re-vaccination may be necessary. The researcher, Dr Diane Harper, made the scaremongers’ job easier by claiming the vaccine programme was ‘a public health experiment.’ Ill-advised words, and ill-advised reporting.

Ironically, in an accompanying piece claiming Britain had opted for Cervarix over Gardasil to save money, a claim that there have been 30 deaths following reported adverse reactions to Gardasil in the US was buried in the 5th para.

have no brief for either vaccine, and have worked on behalf of both manufacturers. I am however keen that people are given accurate, valuable information about risks and benefits.

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