Friday, January 04, 2008

Bad Headline, Junk Science

The misleading headline in the paper this morning's read, "New cervical cancer vaccine is said to be a very painful injection." The sub-headline: "Health officials also note reports of fainting among girls getting the shot."

Mike Stobbe's Associated Press piece is bad journalism, which could do some real harm by scaring women and girls who should get the HPV vaccine (Gardasil). People complain, "why can't they find a cure for cancer?" Well, here's an effective answer against one type of cancer, yet this article could cause parents to not have their daughters vaccinated, out of fear.

The truth is we're talking discomfort, not pain, but too many people will see the headline and not dig deep enough to gain some perspective on the story. You have to read down to the 8th paragraph before seeing:

The pain is short-lived, girls say; many react with little more than a grimace. But some teens say it's uncomfortable driving with or sleeping on the injected arm for up to a day after getting the shot.
In other words, it's about the same punch-in-the-bicep annoyance as most other vaccines, or your basic tetanus shot. For most teens, it's probably less painful than the tattoo they got with their parents' permission.

As for the fainting, I have adult friends who don't like needles, who have to look away when they donate blood or they'll faint. What about the pain of some dental work? Having a cavity filled is no day in the park. Would Stobbe write a scare piece about those procedures? Of course not.

Stobbe's piece is worse than junk science -- it's junk media. If it comes down to a day of discomfort or a case of cervical cancer for my daughter, the choice is clear.