Suzanne Cory is the president of the Australian Academy of Science and heads a lab in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. It was therefore disappointing that she suggested that there are members of the general community that dismiss ‘…..climate change research or immunisation research as a matter of political opinion. Such poor understanding of current knowledge diminishes all our social debates’.
This is an interesting statement to make. Skepticism and debate are a necessary part of the scientific process and in many cases the science is influenced by politics. The statement suggests that any individual questioning either the effects of climate change or immunisation is only presenting ‘political opinion’ with ‘a poor understanding of the issues’. This would be a simplistic statement about the nature of science. Science is based upon assumptions and uncertainty in the risk assessment process and this is why all stakeholders – consumers, industry, the medical profession and governments must be allowed to present their perspective on the issue. Science is inherently political when industry is influencing the funding process and the design of scientific studies. Risk is often being assessed on an ‘absence of evidence’ rather than ‘actual empirical evidence’ because the studies have not been funded. The decision to fund particular studies is influenced by the political process.
In contrast to what Suzanne Cory has stated the presentation of alternative perspectives in science results in an enrichment of social debates not a ‘diminishment of social debate’.
An example of the politics involved in the immunisation debate is the use of the HPV vaccine. The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics has recently published an article titled ‘Too Fast or Not Too Fast: The FDA’s Approval of Merck’s HPV Vaccine Gardasil’.
Here is a quote from p. 677 of this article:
Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil failed (and continues to fail) to meet a single one of the 4 criteria required by the FDA for Fast Track approval. Gardasil is demonstrably neither safer nor more effective than Pap screening combined with LEEP, nor can it improve the diagnosis of serious cervical cancer outcomes. In spite of this Gardasil continues to be promoted as if it already had post-phase 4 confirmatory trial approval and proven efficacy against cervical cancer’.
In addition, the article states that as of September 2012 there have been a total 21,265 adverse reactions (ADR’s) from Gardasil in the US alone. This includes 78 deaths, 363 life-threatening ADR’s and 609 events that resulted in permanent disability (p.676). The highest frequency of adverse event that is linked with Gardasil globally is nervous system-related disorders. Yet in the interview with Professor Ian Frazer published on the Conversation website on the 2nd October the only side-effects that were mentioned were syncope (fainting) and skin rashes. Merck pharmaceutical company has influence over the adverse reaction data and the CDC and the TGA (government regulators) use a ‘passive’ monitoring system to collect adverse event data which means that causal relationships are hard to establish.
The use of this vaccine needs debating and consumers would like to particpate in this debate to ensure that the science regarding the risks of this vaccine have been properly represented in public health policy.