Katie Couric got it wrong

HPV vaccines are safe and effective.

Katie Couric really blew it on national television when she hosted two mothers whose daughters suffered health events which the mothers attributed to HPV vaccines. The mothers’ anecdotes about their daughters’ misfortunes created intense human drama. However, by framing her report in this way, Couric undermined the importance and impact of HPV vaccines. Evidence shows that the two approved HPV vaccines are safe and effective. Couric should not have placed tragic anecdotes above evidence.

Journalist Katie Couric
Journalist Katie Couric

One in four people in the U.S. today have HPV infections, often without their knowing. HPV is known to cause cervical and oropharyngeal cancers, as well as other cancers and conditions. More than 600,000 new cancer cases every year around the world are caused by HPV infections. About 400,000 of these cases could be prevented if adolescents (both male and female) were vaccinated against HPV. HPV vaccines are safe and effective. Couric did the world a huge disservice in using hysteria and drama to arouse anti-vaccine fervor—and this from a journalist and mother whose own children received HPV vaccines. Her children are protected, but what about the adolescents who will not receive vaccines because Couric undermined the effective measure on national television?

From the Slate story, this section is especially telling:

One of the mothers even openly admits she went doctor-hunting until she finally got one willing to tell her what she wanted to hear and who she notably doesn’t name. Couric, the former anchor of the CBS Evening News, doesn’t challenge her.

The Facts: HPV vaccines are safe and effective. They can prevent adolescents from getting cervical cancers, oropharyngeal cancers, other cancers and genital warts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of good material about HPV vaccines. Ms. Couric has done a fabulous job in educating her audiences about the role of colonoscopy in preventing deaths from colon cancer, but she missed an important opportunity to educate adolescents and their families about HPV infections and vaccines. It’s particularly disturbing, because Couric has tremendous influence, and she could have used that influence to save lives.

I’m chair of the President’s Cancer Panel. In early February, we’ll release a report on HPV vaccines and urge the President and others to mobilize around a major effort to increase HPV vaccine uptake.

Ms. Couric, you owe it to your audience to tell both sides of the story.

Best, Barbara

 

Tagged  HPV vaccine

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  1. Mark

    She owes so much to her audiences not just both sides but to correct the thinking of those who because of her are putting their children in harms way.

  2. Felicia Mebane, PhD, MSPH

    Thank you, Dean Rimer for speaking out on this! Everyone, let’s encourage Ms. Couric to take Dean Rimer up on her suggestion. Comment here. Share via social media. In sum, engage. Let’s help make the facts as widespread as the drama!

  3. Barbara Rimer

    Mark and Felicia, thanks so much and Felicia, thank YOU for helping to spread the word. It’s ironic that we have a safe vaccine that prevents cancer. It works. Any medical procedure has risks, but the risks of HPV vaccine are small and far fewer than risks associated with colonoscopy (which also is worth doing in most cases), which Couric has advocated repeatedly since her husband Jay died tragically of colon cancer. So, it makes me wonder why she took such an inappropriate stance regarding HPV vaccines on national television. Was it about trying to reach a particular audience segment? Ratings. Whatever. Couric has always been a responsible communicator. Thanks for your comments! Barbara

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