Category Archives: Health Scare Story

Scary vaccines and the Sunday Express… again

This post first appeared on the blog Minority Thought. It is reproduced here by kind permission.

In the week that Dr Andrew Wakefield’s claim linking the MMR jab with autism was dismissed by the British Medial Journal as a “deliberate fraud” and a “hoax”, the Sunday Express is on the look-out for another vaccine scare (click to enlarge):

The article, written by Lucy Johnston, the Sunday Express’ Health Editor, states that:

UP to a million under-fives have been inoculated against the flu virus with a controversial vaccine containing poisonous mercury.

Inquiries by the Sunday Express reveal it contains a preservative made with a form of mercury that was phased out of childhood vaccines in 2004 after fears about its safety.

The preservative, called thimerosal, has been linked with autism and developmental disorders in children and was withdrawn from childhood vaccines in the United States and parts of Europe 10 years ago.

The story seems to be based around comments made by Dr Richard Halvorsen:

Dr Richard Halvorsen, author of the book, The Truth About Vaccines, said: “Thimerosal is an extremely toxic substance and known poison to the brain.

“There is enough convincing evidence linking thimerosal with developmental disorders and learning problems in individual children to warrant its removal from any childhood vaccine.

“It is irresponsible to administer a jab with little proven benefit which contains potentially harmful toxic substances.”

For a bit of context, it’s worth pointing out that Dr Halvorsen describes himself on his website as being “trained in acupuncture and homeopathy”.

And for a bit more context, it’s worth mentioning that Lucy Johnston, the author of today’s article, was also responsible for the following stories: “Jab ‘As Deadly As The Cancer'”, “Doctor’s MMR fears”, “Exclusive: Experts Cast Doubt On Claim For ‘Wonder’ Cancer Jabs”, “Children ‘Used As Guinea Pigs For Vaccines’”, “Dangers Of MMR Jab ‘Covered Up’”, “Teenage Girls Sue Over Cancer Jab”, “Jab Makers Linked To Vaccine Programme”, “Suicides ‘Linked To Phone Masts” and many more besides.

Vaccine scare stories are clearly her “thing”.

Although the article includes several statements dismissing the claim that thimerosal poses a danger to children, the article is clearly weighted in the opposite direction.

No mention is made of the lack of evidence for a health risk until the fifth paragraph, by which time we’ve already been told that the vaccine contains “poisonous mercury” and that it’s “linked with autism and developmental disorders in children”. Concerned parents who only want to do right by their children will most likely have already made up their minds about the vaccine.

This is the kind of journalism that causes real harm. Certain vaccines or medications, like thimerosal or the MMR jab, may well be “controversial”, but such articles are almost always unwilling to trust the science over the fears of a few “experts”.

As the Express say at the end of their article:

[B]oth the Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Agency and the Department of Health insist there is no evidence of harm from vaccines containing thimerosal.

Furthermore, a quick trip to Wikipedia shows that the link between thimerosal and autism has been rejected by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Medical Toxicology, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the European Medicines Agency.

Faced with overwhelming rejection of the thimerosal-autism link by the scientific community, the Express’ article should have been far more careful not to scare parents. They should have mentioned straight away that the science simply doesn’t back-up Dr Halvorsen’s claim.

They clearly value selling papers more highly than fair and reasonable journalism.

How to Respond to Media Myths

This is a cross-post on The Sun – Tabloid Lies, Express Watch and Mail Watch.

When you read the Sun, Daily Mail and the Express over a long-enough period of time, you start to notice a few things.

One thing that crops up regularly are hysterical ranting posts over a few small topics, including the following:

We’ve noticed that a lot of these scare stories could be stopped by a little research, which we accept that pressed-for-time tabloid journalists, for whatever reason, are unable to do.

Therefore, in the spirit of co-operation, we’ve decided to help them out by listing great sources of information, thereby saving them valuable time:

There are also a variety of websites which can be used for any “Bloody Foreigners! Coming over ‘ere! Takin’ our jobs! Takin’ our wimmin!” stories*:

There are also more general fact-checking sites**:

Of course, any and all of these lists could also be used by anyone else who wants to know more about the articles which the Sun, Daily Mail and/or the Express publish.

If anyone has any other suggestions as what other sources our tabloid journalists could use, just leave them in the comments.

* Thanks to Tabloid Watch for these particular links
** Thanks to Bloggerheads for these suggestions

What they trying to say?

I was researching the Express’s coverage of various health issues and stumbled upon this post.

The post itself isn’t of that much interest, but check out the URL.

Before anyone asks, no, I’ve not amended the address in any way.

Even accurate stories are made to be misleading

The Express has a rather scary story for people with diabetes today with this: ‘HEART ATTACK FEARS OVER DIABETES PILL TAKEN BY MILLIONS‘. The Express claims in the first line of the article that:

A DIABETES pill taken by millions of people is still being prescribed despite experts knowing that it triggers potentially fatal heart attacks.

A safety body recommended that the top-selling drug Avandia be withdrawn two months ago as it “no longer has a place on the UK market”.

Firstly, it must be said that this is a genuine story about a drug that the British Medical Journal and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have suggested causes an increased risk of heart attacks and that the risks outweigh the benefits.

However, the case is more complex than the Express is suggesting, given that less than two months ago the American Food and Drug Administration panel voted to keep the drug on the market and that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has yet to make a decision on the drug and is only at the stage of considering the evidence put forward by the MHRA. The Express does not mention either of these things, which sensationalises things in two ways: firstly, by ignoring the FDA verdict they can imply that experts are unanimous in ‘knowing’ that the drugs cause heart attacks – which makes it more shocking that it is still on the market; and, secondly, they ignore the fact the MHRA have made a case to the EMA because in doing so it suggests that nothing is being done to take this drug off the market – perfect for creating outraged readers.

Whilst the tone of the Express article is not subtle – including the clearly misleading claim that the drug is ‘TAKEN BY MILLIONS’ when they clearly state in the article only around 100,000 people in the UK take the drug – the details that are left out are subtle, and designed to create unnecessary panic. In truth this drug is under intense pressure and as the Guardian points out the company’s stock fell as shareholders worried that the drug would be taken off the market in the near future. It is also what seems like a rarity in tabloid reporting: a genuine health-scare story about a drug that warrants public attention and scrutiny. Yet the Express still feel the need to ‘sex it up’ by inflating 100,000 to ‘millions’ whilst giving the impression that nothing is being is or can be done to remove the drug from the market; which is far from the truth and unnecessarily misleading.