Sometimes it looks like one thing causes another. Every time you eat ice cream, your nose hurts. Every time you turn on the sink, your pipes clank. Or in this case, HPV vaccines seem to coincide with strange side effects.
She is getting an HPV vaccine (Image: AP Images)
That does NOT mean the existence of cause and effect. It means you have a hypothesis ("I think x causes y"), which you need to test in order to rule out all of the other possible factors. But sometimes, it's hard to convince people that their hypothesis is wrong... especially if scientists do something to validate it.
Some scientists think that a paper published in the November 11 issue of the journal Scientific Reports did exactly that -- validate the idea that HPV vaccines can harm us, without running experiments that are actually relevant to what's going on in the human body. The researchers behind the study in question administered a dose of the HPV vaccine a thousand times higher than the appropriate dose, along with a special toxin so the vaccine would penetrate the blood-brain barrier more easily, and observed brain damage in the mice.
"Basically, this is an utterly useless paper, a waste of precious animals," blogged David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan, as reported by Science magazine. The man has a point. When you last went in for a vaccine, did the doctor put you on an IV and then feed you poison?
The reason scientists are angry about this study goes beyond wasted research dollars. Prior to its publication, recipients of the HPV vaccine reported strange side effects, from fatigue to walking difficulties. Media outlets picked up the reports, spawning anti-vaccination movements. Later studies found that the symptoms were equally likely whether patients had been vaccinated or not. Unfortunately, though the vaccine appears to have cut HPV rates, vaccination rates have been falling in Ireland, Denmark and Japan, Science reports.
The scientists behind the mouse study have responded to the blowback, saying this was a first test similar to other types of studies done in mice. But when the public gets concerned that two things correlate, it's up to the scientists to develop non-biased, realistic experiments that either prove or disprove cause-and-effect. Shoddy or unrealistic experimental design can bring far more hurt than harm. In the case of the HPV vaccine, that harm is potentially hundreds of thousands of cases of cervical cancer.