Parenting is a sensitive business, and nobody ever believes they’ll do it right 100% of the time. Most of us, though, do our best. We do our best with the available information, and if not enough information is made available, we look for more.
Unfortunately, the place we look for it these days – the internet – is a bastion of fakery. Dr Google is not just a liar but a terrifying tale-spinner, and diagnosis by social media is everywhere. Believe everything you read on the internet and you’ll be amazed at the cancer-curing properties of grapefruit, avocados and turmeric. Remember, the ‘experts’ don’t want you to know the truth.
When it comes to Big Pharma, though, the internet has your back like nothing else. Any suspicion you’ve ever had in relation to medications that you or a family member are taking will be confirmed. Feel like your painkiller is causing your hair to fall out? Yeah, probably. Know for sure that an injection you got as a baby caused that weird click in your knee? The internet can tell you that too.
After years of misinformation and scaremongering about the MMR and its now completely discredited ‘links’ to autism, the HPV vaccine is now in the sights of conspiracy theorists.
Talking to ordinary, non-medical people – like most of us who make important medical decisions for our children every day – there will be one person in every gathering who is not comfortable with the idea of vaccines, because the fake news has leached in.
Years and years of propaganda and downright lies have been allowed to infect the discourse to the extent that parents of children with autism are still being sold the idea that pumping domestic bleach into their children can help ‘cure’ them. The lies are egregious, wrong and incredibly damaging. Mumps is causing deafness in countries where a generation was freed of it. The US was declared measles-free in 2000, but saw a new death from the disease in 2015 after vaccination rates dropped.
There are good reasons for people to be cautious of medications – the thalidomide tragedy being one – but the research around vaccines is, of necessity, meticulous and internationally peer-reviewed.
The vaccination – Gardasil – has been given to 220,000 girls in Ireland to date with minimal medically reported side effects. Internationally, a study of over one million girls vaccinated with Gardasil found minimal side effects, with the only reported issue being some irritation at the site of injection. Major side effects such as adverse pregnancy outcomes, autoimmune diseases (including Guillain–Barre Syndrome and multiple sclerosis, which match to some extent the symptoms campaigners cite), anaphylaxis, venous thromboembolism and stroke, were extensively studied, and no increase in the incidence of these events was found compared with background rates.
Using slick, well-produced videos (funded by whom, one has to wonder), the Regret campaign and others are frightening parents off a vaccination that will save girls’ lives using cherry-picked cases of 350 teenage girls who have had unexplained symptoms. Their parents, understandably desperate for answers, link their symptoms to the vaccinations.
But, as the study I mention above explains, teenage girls may experience any of the above issues whether or not they are vaccinated. Girls who have been vaccinated get sick, and girls who haven’t been vaccinated get sick. The only difference is that girls who have been vaccinated won’t get cervical cancer.
The campaign orchestrated by Regret and others against the HPV vaccine, due to be given to thousands of young girls later this month, has caused a dramatic drop in uptake over the past few years. It’s hard to get your head around this.
Imagine telling people you can vaccinate them against one of the most frightening diseases on earth. Imagine saying to someone “take this, and you won’t get cancer”. Then imagine them saying “actually, there’s a girl on the internet who got tired after taking it, so I’ll pass”.
If vaccination rates continue to drop, 40 Irish girls who are now 12 and 13 and whose parents will refuse to vaccinate them, will die unnecessarily of cervical cancer. That’s not scaremongering, it’s a statistical likelihood. Cervical cancer caused by the HPV virus is a killer. You can prevent your daughter dying from this.
Risking your child contracting a real, potentially fatal and at the very least traumatic disease because you have heard some rumours about how the vaccination against it causes fatigue is negligence.
Before you refuse to sign the consent form for your daughter to be protected from cervical cancer, do some research. It’s about statistics, peer-reviewed studies and, well, experts. They have years of research and experience behind them. Regret have some very upsetting and unfortunate personal experiences. Trust science, not emotion, with your child’s future.
Published in the Herald, Friday 1 September 2017.