IoS letters, emails and online postings (7 June 2015)


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As professionals dedicated to the welfare of children, we were concerned to read the article suggesting a connection between the HPV vaccine and serious illnesses such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (News, 31 May). We are already aware of parents having withdrawn consent for their daughters to be immunised.

We were sorry to read of the illnesses of a number of children following the vaccine and don’t deny the parents’ accounts. However, the fact that an illness follows soon after a vaccine, even frequently, does not mean that it is caused by the vaccine. To see if this is the case it is necessary to look at how commonly the condition occurs in people who have not had the vaccine. The research quoted has not done this. The reports of suspected side effects to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) can only ever suggest lines of research, never prove a link. 

Dr David Elliman

Consultant in community child health

Whittington Health, London

Dr Helen Bedford

Senior lecturer in children’s health

UCL Institute of Child Health, London

Reporting that “thousands of girls” who have had HPV vaccine have become ill is as absurd as reporting that thousands who have used mobile phones have become ill or even that thousands who smoke cigarettes have not become ill. It represents scientific illiteracy. One could dismiss this as just another example of poor journalism but actually this is playing with people’s lives and deaths, and is far from trivial. You owe your readers a full apology.

Professor Adam Finn

Professor of paediatrics, Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol

I wanted to thank you so much for having the courage to print Sunday’s story on the HPV vaccine. We are one of the families whose daughter’s life has been so badly affected. She received her Cervarix vaccinations in the first year, so she is one of the oldest group now and her health continues to deteriorate.

Her GCSE and A-level schooling was plagued with ill health but she determinedly pushed through and won a place at Cambridge. However, she has recently had to give in and drop out of university after almost two years. She has gone from a bright, bubbly, gifted, compassionate girl who wants to make the world a better place, so someone who can manage only a few hours out of bed each day.

Ours is a similar story to that published: of being dismissed by doctors, being told it is in the mind, of having to be so tenacious to get any diagnosis of a constellation of symptoms, and with no cure or treatment in sight. Speaking up exposes you to contempt from people who see you as part of a loony anti-vaccine party – as my daughter found on Sunday when posting your link.

Niki Pain

Via email

Gabrielle Rifkind (Comment, 31 May) is right to say that British foreign policy has lost direction. She is also right that it can only be brought back on track by focusing on our skill at diplomacy. Her “no first use” approach to Trident, the symbol of our national delusions of grandeur, is, though, rather timid.

Britain, as she points out, is renowned for punching above its weight on the world stage. This expensive relic of the Cold War, which deters none of our current enemies, gives us the opportunity to do so again by becoming the first major power to beat into ploughshares a nuclear sword it could never in conscience use.

Adam Colclough


Pete Jenson (“Greatest of them all?”, Sport, 31 May) cites various journalists and ex-players to support his view that Lionel Messi is the best footballer ever. Almost to a man, they state that he is the best they have ever seen. Unsurprising, as there is hardly any footage available of Pelé in his prime. Unlike Messi, he didn’t have his every goal (more than 1,000) filmed in glorious HD and uploaded straight to the internet. Nor did he (or Maradona, for that matter) play on carpet-like pitches against hapless, benevolent defenders, as Messi does.

Will Goble

Rayleigh, Essex