Couric said Tuesday that some of the criticism that the episode was too anti-vaccine and anti-science “was valid.”
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that almost all
sexually active people will develop at some point. About 90 percent
people will clear the infection out within months with natural immunity.
Some infections that don’t go away can be responsible for many
cases of genital warts and cervical and oropharyngeal cancer (of the back of the tongue and
throat), as well as rarer cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina and penis.
The Dec. 4 episode of “Katie” had been criticized for promoting arguments from moms who said their daughters were harmed by the vaccines, including one whose child died. Couric also interviewed HPV researcher Dr. Diane Harper, chair of family medicine at the University of Louisville. Harper had researched the vaccine and said its protection would wear off after five years.
Experts were quick to point out that scientific evidence didn’t jibe with the opinions from Couric’s guests.
For the 57 million doses of the vaccine given out from June 2006 through March 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has received at least 22,000 reports of adverse events in girls and women. About 92 percent of which were classified as non-serious. The other almost 8 percent of serious side effects included headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, fainting and generalized weakness.
He added, “If you want to do a show every day that spotlights anecdotal claims about the health effects of cell phones or curative powers of megavitamins or dangers of airplane contrail vapors, you can certainly fill up lots of programming, but I don’t think you’re doing anyone a service.”
Couric’s blog post devoted more space to the science. She highlighted the risk between HPV and cancer, citing estimates that each year about 26,000 Americans are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV. She also summarized the effectiveness of the vaccines in reducing the abnormalities that precede cancer, countering Harper's claim by saying evidence has shown the vaccine's protectiveness lasting five years.
She noted that while the vast majority of side effects to the HPV vaccine are not serious, she said she still felt the need to share the two patient stories on her show.
“As a journalist, I felt that we couldn't simply ignore these reports. That's why we had two mothers on the show who reported adverse reactions after their daughters had been vaccinated for HPV,” she wrote. “One could hardly get out of bed for three years, and the other tragically died. There is no definitive proof that these two situations were related to the vaccine. Every life is important. However, the time spent telling these stories was disproportionate to the statistical risk attendant to the vaccines and greater perspective is needed.”
She added that as a cancer-prevention advocate, one of her goals was to affirm the importance of getting Pap tests and that people should not skip gynecological visits just because they got an HPV vaccine. Couric also expressed support for the vaccine, adding her own two daughters had been vaccinated.
“I know there is a segment of the population that
has expressed intense concern over vaccines in general and that this is an
emotional issue for some. But based on the science, my personal view is that
the benefits of the HPV vaccine far outweigh its risks," she wrote.