When a British girl -- who had an undiagnosed tumor -- died shortly after receiving the HPV (cervical cancer) vaccine, the British tabloids jumped on the story as proof that vaccines are evil and pad and deadly and dangerous. They even quoted respected scientists who agreed with them. Except they misrepreented those scientists' views, got the science completely wrong, scared people away from potentially life-saving treatment, and failed to adequately own up to their mistakes. Ben Goldacre, the "bad science" columnist for the Guardian, has written a scathing indictment of the way the press handled the story.
The story seemed unlikely for three reasons. Firstly, Professor Harper is not a known member of the antivaccination community, which is vanishingly small. Secondly, it was on the front page of the Sunday Express, which is indeed cause for concern. Lastly, it was by specialist health journalist Lucy Johnston, whose previous work includes "Doctor's MMR fears", "Exclusive: Experts Cast Doubt On Claim For 'Wonder' Cancer Jabs", "Children 'Used As Guinea Pigs For Vaccines'", "Dangers Of Mmr Jab 'Covered Up'", "Teenage Girls Sue Over Cancer Jab", "Jab Makers Linked To Vaccine Programme", and so many more, including a rather memorable bad science story, the front page: " Suicides 'Linked To Phone Masts".
So I contacted Professor Harper. For avoidance of doubt, so that there can be no question of me misrepresenting her views, unlike the Express, I will explain Professor Harper's position on this issue in her own words. They are unambiguous.
"I did not say that Cervarix was as deadly as cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix could be riskier or more deadly than cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix was controversial, I stated that Cervarix is not a 'controversial drug'. I did not 'hit out' - I was contacted by the press for facts. And this was not an exclusive interview."
(Thanks, Evidence Matters!)