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Vaccine Dilemma


5 Star

Vaccine Dilemma

Our Review Summary

Whether to vaccinate all young women against human papillomavirus (HPV) remains controversial. A study published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association is the first to report data on harms of the vaccine from large groups of vaccinated women. The results were somewhat surprising in the numbers of adverse events, although the design of the reporting system makes it hard to know whether all of the harms are indeed caused by the vaccine.

Experts disagree on the importance of the new data. Some argue that any amount of risk is too high given that currently available cervical cancer screening methods are so effective and inexpensive. Others point out that the risks are in line with other established vaccines. Regardless, it is clear that physicians and patients should be aware of the risks and make a decision about vaccination depending on their own feelings about the pluses and minuses of vaccination.

This story, in a short amount of time, does a good job of describing this controversy and educating consumers about the issue. It quotes multiple sources with important differences of opinion, although the comment from the OB/GYN about not wanting his daughter vaccinated was a somewhat troublesome anecdote.  We’d rather hear from a pediatrics professional group. The story could have been improved by describing the cost of the vaccine, which is $120 per shot or $360 for the series of three, not including physician fees.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention the cost of the vaccine, which is $120 per shot or $360 for the series of three, not including physician fees. These costs may not be covered by medical insurance.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The news angle was the report on Gardasil’s safety, so it’s understandable that the story didn’t discuss potential benefits.  This criterion is N/A in this case.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story adequately describes the harms of the vaccine.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The story adequately describes the current study. The story could have described some of the limitations of relying on an adverse event reporting system.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not exaggerate the seriousness or prevalence of cervical cancer. It is very helpful when a story cites both the incidence of new cases of a cancer and the annual deaths from that cancer in the US, with a source cited (as this story did).

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The story quotes multiple experts who provide valuable perspective. However, the comment from the OB/GYN about not wanting his daughter vaccinated was troublesome because, as with a patient story, it is anecdotal.  We don’t know who are the doctors he knows.  Do they take care of adolescents who are the candidates for this vaccine?  Why not get a reaction from a pediatrics professional group? 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story mentions other methods for preventing cervical cancer, including pap smears and regular check-ups.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The piece made it quite clear HPV vaccine has been widely available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story adequately describes that the idea of vaccination for HPV is relatively new.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Because the story quoted multiple experts, the reader can assume that the story did not rely on a press release as the sole source of information.

Total Score: 8 of 9 Satisfactory


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