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Friday, 13 February 2015

HPV vaccine debate in the Toronto Star. Unmasking the dark side of the media

The Toronto Star HPV saga dominated the airways beside the rage against anti-vaccinators as initiators, propagators and disseminators of measles.  Two highly incongruent stories, both highlighting the passionate debate around immunization.  

Some might say neither with tragic consequences yet in Canada, others will point to a mounting toil of preventable cervical cancer.  Irrespective of your view, both illustrate the challenge of bringing science to the public. 

Most child and youth immunization rates are slipping gradually.  HPV coverage is increasing.   Both reflect choices of parents and are less impacted by the needs or opinions of the persons receiving the vaccine.  

The Toronto Star original article spoke about the dark side of vaccination Dark side of Gardasil  
While not fully retracted the story, the Star has published an op-ed piece Feb 11 response which counters the original allegations. The publisher and editor-in-chief have come as close as possible without actually issuing a retraction or apology in stating the article “let the readers down”  Feb 11 CBC coverage

Where to from here?  Vaccination decision for most childhood illnesses have an outright acceptance currently running around 80%, that is at least four out of five parents follow the advise of their health care provider because they are just that “their health care provider”.  A trusted source of health information on which they depend.  

The doubters and objectors for most vaccines are in a total minority.   While a very small percentage of the population truly want to contrary, the majority prefer the comfort of being in the majority.  Each and everyone who should receive a hero’s medal for not only trying to protect themselves, but for the contributing to the protection of their community.

It remains to be seen if the Star will bow to the pressures of advertisers, readers, journalists and politicians in refraining from stirring the vaccine pot.   It seems like a good journalistic and business decision to review its reporting.  

Anything that is provided universally is going to have its share of coincidental events.  In the meantime, those that remember the horrors of facing these illnesses and the devastation they have caused in our lifetimes need to speak up to and share their wisdom, and the media have a duty to be truthful in their reporting - something the Star fell short on this time.  


  1. In British Columbia, the age of consent for vaccines is 14. I had a unique opportunity to judge a vaccination debate in a grade 11 biology class. What we need to foster and encorporate into media practice is what these young adults think; not necessarily what we, as adults, have chosen for them.

  2. So true on seeking input of youth. Just to clarify, most jursidictions(including BC) have moved away from an age basis for consent to maturity. The obstacle is often school districts that still interpret the concept of loco parentis as being such that anything that occurs are their property, where possible, requires parental consent (irrespective of age). Time to get school districts to change attitude. Youth deserve being treated with respect.