On Feb. 5, the Toronto Star published a Page 1 article with the headline “A wonder drug’s dark side” beneath a “Star investigation” label, which was also carried by several Metroland websites.
The article focused on several young women who had grown sick sometime after taking the anti-papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil.
The story included the caveat that none of these instances had been conclusively linked to the vaccine.
However, the weight of the photographs, video, headlines and anecdotes led many readers to conclude the Star believed its investigation had uncovered a direct connection between a large variety of ailments and the vaccine.
Some doctors and public health officials were troubled by the story treatment and by the lack of reference to the many studies which conclude the risks of Gardasil are low.
All major studies conducted after widespread inoculations began in 2006 have concluded the risks posed by Gardasil are no greater than those identified in the trial period before the vaccine was licensed and accepted for widespread use.
These include a study by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and an analysis of Gardasil safety issues in 37 countries by the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for International Drug Monitoring, published in 2011. As well, an abstract from a Canadian study of the results of several million inoculations between 2006 and 2010 was presented to American Public Health Association meetings in 2013.
The Star story also drew responses from health researchers who praised the Star’s attempts to sift through data in which the red flag of an undiscovered side-effect might be found.
No drug is absolutely safe for all people in all conditions of health. Now that tens of millions of young women have taken the vaccine, it is conceivable that very rare reactions may emerge that weren’t identified earlier.
All vaccines, including Gardasil, have side-effects. The better known they are, the more safely the vaccine can be deployed.
This is what the article sought to achieve as well as to note that acknowledged risks are not always properly communicated.
We remain committed to this line of reporting. However, we have concluded that in this case our story treatment led to confusion between anecdotes and evidence.
For that reason, the Gardasil story package of Feb. 5 will be removed from our websites.