The Cervical Cancer Jab and the 'Waking Coma'

I read an extremely sad news story this evening about a girl who is trapped in a 'waking coma'. Sleeping for 23 hours a day she has been unable to open her eyes for several weeks. Her condition is according to the news reports undiagnosed, but her symptoms have been linked to ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Her story has been covered on The Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sun and many other major news websites after the local newspaper covered the story.

Unfortunately, I feel that this story has only hit the big newspapers as her symptoms coincided with her receiving the cervical cancer vaccine and the headlines and articles all suggest that the cancer vaccine is the cause of the girls condition. These are some of the headlines:

Daily Mail:  Girl, 13, left in 'waking coma' and sleeps for 23 hours a day after severe reaction to cervical cancer jabs

Telegraph: Cervical cancer jab left girl, 13, in 'waking coma'
The Sun:  Cervical cancer jab puts girl, 13, in 'waking coma'

The link between the jab and her condition has not been proven.

Obviously it is important to get to the bottom of this story,  and find out what is the cause of the symptoms, but I am disappointed to see this story being sold as an anti vaccine scare story.

News organisations may say they have a responsibility to report on stories that may suggest a danger from a product/vaccine however, is a very isolated case and overshadows the benefits of the vaccine (and other vaccines).

How can possible side effects be reported whilst making it clear that the links are not yet proven? Can they? Has the media still not learnt its lesson from previous misreporting of unsupported vaccine side-effects?

For the facts on the cervical cancer vaccine visit the NHS website:

I would encourage everyone to submit a complaint about these articles to the PCC here - as I feel they are in breach of clause 1 (accuracy) of the code of practice -

As Stephen Adams was identified as the author of the Telegraph acticle I contacted him:

I am writing to you in response to the article posted on The Telegraphs website titled - Cervical cancer jab left girl, 13, in 'waking coma'.
I am unsure why you have chosen to produce a story linking the jab to the girls condition when a link has not yet been proven. The article clearly comes across in a way that suggests the link is there and I think that is misleading. I have written more on my blog here
I have also submitted a complaint about the article to the PCC.
I would like to ask you why you felt the need to write the article in this way? Do you not see the need to be cautious in the representation of vaccine side effect stories after the problems with the MMR vaccine?

This Stephen's response:

The article clearly states that it is the parents' belief that the jab has produced an adverse reaction in their daughter.
It does not claim this is the doctors' judgement, or claim there is a proven link.
The article makes clear the very great benefit this vaccine should have in the future in reducing the burden of cervical cancer, and the fact that it has demonstrated a strong safety profile so far in trials and in practice.
That, however, should not stop papers from reporting suspected adverse reactions. And that is all we have done - reported the parents' fears of a suspected adverse reaction. It does not, as you write, suggest there is a link.
I believe papers should be free to report claims of such reactions, in a fair and balanced way. As a medical sciences student you undoubtedly know that vaccines can and do produce adverse reactions in a small proportion of people.
I don't have an axe to grind about vaccines, and am certainly not one of the minority who objects to them.
For your information I have written other reports on HPV vaccines, see for example here and here
Anti-vaccine campaigners might take the view that these are to 'pro-vaccine'.
You might, however, be interested to read some of the comments from parents on the bottom of the first of the two.
I am acutely aware of the need not to scaremonger about vaccinations in the wake of MMR; I think you will find most journalists are.

I haven't got much time to write my reaction - here is what I believe is the 'original' article in the local newspaper - This article really suggests that it is the parents feeling that there is a link to the jab more than the article in the Telegraph does. A lot of the stats and statments in this article also appear in the Telegraph article.

I understand that Stephen probably did not write the headline for the article in the Telegraph and I feel that it is the most misleading part, however, he doesn't see a problem with the article at all.


  1. The Secret Apothecary15 November 2011 at 08:24

    I blame watching the X factor for leaving this girl in a coma. Perhaps the parents could explain why my claim has more credibility than theirs.

  2. There is a critique of the Daily Mail article here along with the PCC complaint -

  3. "You might, however, be interested to read some of the comments from parents on the bottom of the first of the two" - yeah, these are parents terrified of being to blame for harming their daughters' health, which is understandable when papers print scare-mongering stories like his.

  4. Sad for the girl as that must be horrendous and sad for the girls who will now turn down the vaccine.

  5. This is true. Many women and teenage girls have been injected with the vaccine but no untoward reactions such as the one mentioned above.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How to help someone that is writing up their thesis

How many papers should academics publish per year?

Getting Women into Science, EU Directive