CBS, NBC Downplay Serious Gardasil Side Effects

A week after the news broke, CBS and NBC finally got around to reporting about the serious complications being caused by Gardasil, the anti-STD drug administered in compulsory vaccinations to girls as young as 12 in three states.  ABC hasn't said a word.

Perhaps the better term would be “misreporting.”  CBS and NBC both asserted that Gardasil is safe, ignoring reports that some women have suffered convulsions, paralysis and death after being vaccinated. 

Gardasil protects against human papillomavirus, or HPV, a virus associated with cervical cancer.  HPV is transmitted by sexual contact.

According to a June 30 report by WorldNetDaily, Judicial Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group that investigates government corruption, uncovered an FDA document listing complications associated with Gardasil.  The complications included “anaphylactic shock,” “foaming at the mouth,” “grand mal convulsion,” “coma,” and “now paralyzed.” The report also documented a total of 18 to 20 deaths.

Neither NBC's Today Show nor CBS's The Early Show addressed the “140 'serious' reports of complications including about three dozen classified as life-threatening, 10 spontaneous abortions and half a dozen cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome” (WorldNetDaily).  Instead, both shows downplayed the seriousness of the findings, focusing on minor complications such as dizziness and fainting. 

Today Show medical expert Dr. Nancy Snyderman stressed that these minor reactions are usually the result of shot uneasiness, what “we call the jab effect, not the real vaccine effect.” Her words were echoed on The Early Show by medical reporter Dr. Holly Phillips: “Um, it has been found that young women occasionally after they have the shot will feel dizzy or even pass out.  Now that may not have to do with what's in the shot, as much as just getting a shot.  Exactly, so it's now advised that people are sitting for a least 15 minutes after they have the shot to prevent that.”

Snyderman did say that every death must be investigated.  Yet she concluded, “But overall, most of the things we have seen I don't think are serious side effects considering the number of vaccines that have been given.” 

On The Early Show, correspondent Tracy Smith reported on a case from California where a girl's parents believe their daughter's degenerative muscle disease was caused by Gardasil.  However, Phillips said there's no need to worry:  “Um, at this moment, we shouldn't be more worried than we've ever been.”  She emphasized twice how the case had not been found to be linked to Gardasil.

Philllips went on to praise the effectiveness of the FDA's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, saying that they take its filed concerns “very seriously.”  Ironically, in October 2007, CNSNews confirmed that the FDA has denied the link between reported deaths and the HPV vaccine.  CNSNews reported:  “Federal officials and Gardasil's manufacturer, Merck & Co., insist that none of the eight young women, ages 11 to 22, who reportedly died after the injection of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine, died because of the vaccine.”  At the time of the article, government documents had shown “that eight deaths and more than 3,000 adverse reactions were reported after the vaccine.”

Even though more than 7,000 adverse reactions and 10 confirmed deaths have now been reported to the FDA, Smith emphasized that only one type of adverse reaction has been directly linked to Gardasil.  She allowed Dr. Phillips to elaborate:  “Exactly, that's syncope, which is a fancy medical term for dizziness and fainting.” 

Dr. Philips insisted that it's safe to get the shot.  She also observed that cervical cancer is an “incredibly common” disease—the “second most common cancer affecting women.”  No mention of the fact that Gardasil protects against the HPV virus, not cancer, or the fact that HPV can only be contracted through sexual activity.

The media continues the trend it established ever since the drug was first approved by the FDA in June 2006:  hyping its benefits and necessity and minimizing evidence of serious side effects.

A headline from a Washington Post article back in February 2007 reads, “Millions in U.S. Infected With HPV; Study Finds Virus Strikes a Third of Women by Age 24.”   The media reported extensively over the last two years that “studies have shown the vaccine to be 100% effective in preventing cervical cancers caused by HPV 16 and 18” (USA Today). But is the vaccine necessary to prevent cancer?  According to CWA, “70 percent of those with sexually-transmitted HPV infection will clear the virus from the body through the immune system spontaneously after 18 months and 90 percent after two years.” 

CMI Senior Writer Kristen Fyfe reported in February 2007 that NBC characterized Gardasil as a preventive measure against cancer rather than as a vaccine against a sexually-transmitted disease, which can only be contracted through sexual intercourse.

The media paid little attention to Gardasil until Texas mandated the vaccine for girls entering the sixth grade.  The media continue to keep quiet about the side effects associated with the drug even when young girls' health and lives are at stake.

Julia Seward is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.