Katie Couric apologizes for HPV 'anti-vaccine' segment

Katie Couric issues a sort-of apology for her heavily criticized segment on the HPV vaccine.

By Gabrielle Levy
Katie Couric apologizes for HPV 'anti-vaccine' segment
Katie Couric at the Ninth Annual UNICEF Snowflake Ball at Cipriani in New York City on December 3, 2013. (File/UPI/John Angelillo) | License Photo

Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Katie Couric has responded to backlash over an episode of her talk show that many said was anti-science and anti-vaccine, calling the criticism "valid."

In an essay on the Huffington Post, Couric wrote that the segment of Katie that aired on December 4 should have done a better job balancing reporting on the "serious adverse events that have been reported in very rare cases following the vaccine."


"More emphasis should have been given to the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines," she said. "As someone who has spent the last 15 years relaying important medical information with the goal of improving public health, it is critical to me that people know the facts."

The episode featured interviews with two mothers who said their daughters had suffered adverse effects after they were given the Human papillomavirus vaccine, including one who died. Couric also spoke to two physicians, one of whom said the vaccine's efficacy wears off in five years, (contrary to research from the CDC that says six-year studies have shown no evidence of weakening effectiveness).

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While Couric promoted the episode as a debate on the HPV vaccine controversy, medical experts were quick to point out the majority of the episode's time dealt with promoting unproven -- or completely debunked -- concerns over the drug.

In the seven years between 2006 and 2013, the CDC has received some 22,000 reports of adverse reactions to the vaccine while 57 million doses were distributed. That's less than a one in 10,000 chance of having any reaction at all, and a whopping 92 percent of those reactions were considered non-serious, including pain or swelling at the injection sight, fainting, dizziness, nausea, fever, headache or hives.

And while Couric's response Tuesday said that "there's no question that the vaccination is highly effective," she defended her decision to highlight reports of problems.

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"Some people say their children have suffered from a variety of medical problems after the vaccination, and there have even been a few reports of death," she wrote. "As I journalist, I felt that we couldn't simply ignore these reports."

Problematically, anecdotal reports such as the ones highlighted by Couric's show have not been causally connected to the vaccine. And while both of the mothers on the show were presented as randomly selected, they are in fact proponents of the anti-vaccination movement, working with the National Vaccine Information Center, which is known for promoting debunked claims linking vaccinations with autism, and Sane Vax, which is connected with disgraced researcher Andrew Wakefield.


The anti-vaccination movement not only relies on pseudoscience, but with its growth has heralded the return of preventable diseases once thought eradicated, including outbreaks of whooping cough and the measles.

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The CDC recommends boys and girls between ages 11 and 26 receive the HPV vaccine, which helps prevent cervical cancers, genital warts, and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. Two vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, have been approved to be administered in a series of three shots over six months to girls, while Gardasil has also been approved for boys.

[Huffington Post] [Slate] [Gotham Skeptic] [CDC]

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