“Vax facts” (HPV immunization)

Some people paint anti-vaxxers as misinformed and misled, seeing them being driven by fear rather than ill intent. But I assume a more hardened approach. Those operating from a mistaken but well-intentioned position would refrain from doing what has been done to the family of Riley Hughes. When he died in infancy from whooping cough, which he was too young to be vaccinated against, his parents turned their unimaginable grief into productive action and launched a campaign to spread awareness of the vaccine’s importance. For this, they were accused by anti-vaxxers of having murdered their son and trying to cover it up by inventing the whooping cough angle. Others denied the child ever existed, and other grieving parents have been subjected to nonstop doxing, abuse, and slander. These are not the actions of good people.

Contrast that with the approach of those in the pro-vax crowd. Here in Moline, a child just entering high school died three years ago from Acute Disseminated Dncephalomyelitis. (ADEM). Anti-vaxxers convinced the mother that the HPV vaccine her son took earlier in the year caused the death and persuaded her to join their ranks. Despite his mother making the situation public and becoming an anti-vax campaigner, I will not mention her or her child by name out of respect and sensitivity.

Writing for the Skeptical Raptor, law professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss noted that the no epidemiological factors exist to establish a link between the vaccine and the death.

The deceased suffered from a headache but that mundane malady quickly transformed into something much more serious. He had to be hospitalized and become unable to breathe on his own. Meanwhile, his left side became paralyzed and his brain swelled. Based not on evidence or science, but on what they wanted to believe, anti-vaxxers pounced and connected the situation to the HPV vaccine. However, there is no evidence supporting a link between HPV vaccines and ADEM, which is characterized by a brief but widespread inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. ADEM often follows viral or bacterial infections, and occurs infrequently after vaccination for measles, mumps, or rubella, but not for HPV. Several large studies have found no connection between HPV vaccines and ADEM: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29280070/M.

Inevitably, when you vaccinate large numbers of people, you will have some bad things happen after the vaccines, or any other activity. But it is post hoc reasoning to tie the incident to having a vaccine, eating Rice Krispies, or running a half-marathon.

There are other reasons to doubt a link. First, the child’s ADEM manifested 40 days after the vaccine. In a large study of ADEM and vaccines, such a time period would be at the farthest reach possible for there to be a connection.

Second, the few cases of ADEM reported after HPV vaccine administering occurred after the second does and the child received just one.

Finally, his mother has initially mentioned that he also had a viral illness in the weeks before showing symptoms of ADEM, and infections are much more associated with ADEM than are vaccines.

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