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Next step for anti-cancer vaccine

Rating

2 Star

Next step for anti-cancer vaccine

Our Review Summary

The recent recommendation of an FDA panel to approve an HPV vaccine has made big news around the country in many different media outlets. However, this ABC network story has several flaws. The story treats FDA approval of the vaccine as a fait accompli. Just because the panel recommended it be approved does not mean approval will be automatic or occur in the suggested time frame. The story does not mention costs, which would likely be substantial given the scope of a potential vaccination program. Nor does the story mention that the vaccine will not replace pap smears, which further adds to the cost. The story exaggerates the seriousness of HPV and cervical cancer by stating that the vaccine could save “thousands and thousands” of women (there are 3,700 deaths from cervical cancer per year – the vaccine could prevent up to 70% of them if all women are vaccinated). The story should provide some context by explaining that cervical cancer is relatively rare. Fewer than 1% of women will develop cervical cancer in their lifetime.

Furthermore, the story does not describe the available evidence and it does not mention the obvious alternative, pap smears. The story also does not provide adequate quantification of the benefits. It says that we could save “thousands and thousands of American women’s lives” and that we are on the verge of “wiping out a disease with a vaccine,” however it does not provide justification for these statements. This statement also ignores the fact that some cases of cervical cancer are caused by other types of HPV that the vaccine does not protect against.

Because the story quotes multiple sources, the viewer can assume that the story does not rely on a press release as the sole source of information. However, only one of the “experts” is a physician. The others are politicians or representatives of interest groups.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs, which would likely be substantial given the scope of a potential vaccination program. Nor does the story mention that the vaccine will not replace pap smears, which further adds to the cost.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not provide adequate quantification of the benefits. It says that we could save “thousands and thousands of American women’s lives” and that we are on the verge of “wiping out a disease with a vaccine,” however there is no justification provided for these statements. This statement also ignores the fact that some cases of cervical cancer are caused by other types of HPV that the vaccine does not protect against.

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

Satisfactory

The story discusses the very hotly debated effect of the vaccine on sexual behavior in young people. The story accurately presents the vaccine as “very, very safe.” This does seem true based on study reports, with soreness at injection site in 80% the only harm reported.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not describe the available evidence.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story exaggerates the seriousness of HPV and cervical cancer by stating that the vaccine could save “thousands and thousands” of women. The story should provide some context by explaining that cervical cancer is relatively rare. Fewer than 1% of women will develop cervical cancer in their lifetime.

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

Satisfactory

The story does quote multiple individuals, although only one of them is a physician. The others are politicians or representatives of interest groups.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention the obvious alternative, pap smears. But, more important, the story does not mention that regular pap smears will remain necessary indefinitely.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story treats FDA approval of the vaccine as a fait accompli. Although the FDA usually follows the panel recommendations, it does not mean approval will be automatic or occur in the suggested time frame.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story clearly states that this vaccine is new.

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

Satisfactory

Because the story quotes multiple sources, the viewer can assume that the story does not rely on a press release as the sole source of information.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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