In case you missed it (I never do), here’s the opening line to Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show last week:
(spooky voice, eerie music) The HPV vaccine is considered a life-saving cancer preventer… but is it a potentially deadly dose for girls?
I used roll my eyes at such irresponsible attempts at sensationalism, but I can’t anymore, not after Jenny McCarthy took to daytime TV to spout her unproven theories blaming autism on vaccines. Like Katie Couric, the TV shows that invited Jenny McCarthy (‘Larry King Live,’ ‘The Doctors’), supported the topic under the innocent banner of a ‘conversation.’
The problem, however, is when in one corner you have two teary eyed mothers (or the pretty, charismatic Jenny McCarthy), and in the other, a scientist giving objective data, science loses EVERY TIME.
The consequences of losing these talk-show ‘conversations,’ unfortunately, are not inconsequential. We are still reeling from the effects of Jenny McCarthy’s media campaign, in which kids unnecessarily got sick, and important dollars were diverted from meaningful autism research.
For the record, we are talking about a medicine that prevents cancer. For all the research, money, and media attention that go towards cancer research and treatment, nothing comes close to the holy grail of medicine, that is prevention.
Here’s the boring objective stuff. HPV isn’t just an unsightly wart. Annually, it is estimate to cause1:
- 2,100 vulvar cancers,
- 500 vaginal cancers,
- 600 penile cancers,
- 2,800 anal cancers in women,
- 1,500 anal cancers in men,
- 1,700 oropharyngeal cancers in women, and
- 6,700 oropharyngeal cancers in men
And, by the way, its safe: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6229a4.htm?s_cid=mm6229a4_e
As a whole, we pediatricians were embarrassingly silent as we watched Jenny McCarthy’s deadly escapade unfold. I don’t think we will let that happen again. Katie Couric, what you did is shameful and dangerous. I hope you use your platform as a respected journalist to refocus the image you created for the HPV vaccine. If not, you may see yourself the recipient of a similar dubious honor, as seen here: