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How Misinformation Gets the Jump on Facts in the Vaccine Wars

Blink and you will have missed the news that Pfizer (PFE)'s meningitis vaccine Prevnar is back on the market after it turned out that it did not, in fact, cause the death of three babies in Holland. Moreover, the original batch that was wrongly linked to the deaths will now be released for use.

The lack of headlines attached to this event is in stark contrast to the screaming, above-the-fold treatment given to the deaths when they first occurred.

The "link" between a vaccine inoculation and any death that occurs after it quickly morphs into a permanent Internet meme, and the correct information -- emerging months later -- doesn't stand a chance. Here's one example, and another and another.

The best example of this phenomenon was the death of Natalie Morton (pictured) after she received one of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)'s Cervarix vaccines for HPV and cervical cancer. The British teen collapsed suddenly after receiving the jab. A few days later it emerged in an autopsy that she had a large, pre-existing tumor in her chest that could have killed her at any second. Here's the fact-free reaction of one anti-vaccine blogger:

Where does the truth lie? ... Because I still don't believe in coincidence. Not when it comes to vaccines.

How likely is it that a 14 year old girl can have a massive heart / lung tumour of the type which the coroners claim she had -- and still be totally asymptomatic?

Part of the difficulty in convincing people that vaccines are not a plot to kill babies lies with the news cycle. "Child vaccine death!" is a pretty good headline when all you know is that a child died shortly after receiving a jab. It's hard for the media to give equal play to "Child died of unremarkable natural causes" weeks later.

But that's no excuse for willful ignorance. I'm using an old family photo of Morton not because I think it's cool to use her death to make my point, but rather because after she died, her older sister Abigail got the same vaccine. She says:

I really want other girls and their parents to consider the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
If only others were as rational as this 18-year-old.