October 5, 2009
Dr. Mark Porter
It now seems that Natalie Morton died from an underlying cancer, not from a reaction to the cervical cancer vaccine
Few subjects polarise opinion like vaccination. Since Edward Jenner pioneered the concept more than 200 years ago, it has transformed public health across the globe and vies with antibiotics and anaesthesia as the most significant advance in modern medicine. But, as the recent furore over the cervical cancer vaccine has proven, it is also one of the most controversial.
A 14-year-old schoolgirl, Natalie Morton, collapsed and died within hours of receiving the Cervarix vaccine, fuelling the embers of parental concern and encouraging the conspiracy theorists who populate so many internet forums. That she now appears to have died from an underlying cancer, rather than from a reaction to the vaccine, seems to have been largely ignored. The damage has been done.
I spent yesterday reading through some of the posts on the Times’ website, and surfing the net, and there are a number of recurring themes that worry me. People have been too quick to jump to the wrong conclusions, and many remain convinced that children are being used as guinea pigs for an untested and potentially dangerous vaccine.
There are many sensible voices out there, but they are drowned in a sea of prejudice. On one forum, an independent virologist was trying to explain the link between the human papilloma virus (HPV — the infection that the vaccine protects against) and cervical cancer when one of her fellow posters launched into a tirade about vaccination being part of a plan to reduce the world’s population by 80 per cent. How on earth do you have a sensible discussion with such a crackpot?