Bad news: media coverage of HPV vaccine increased adverse event reports

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

Some of the adverse events reported after the rollout of the HPV vaccine in New Zealand are likely to have been related to news coverage rather than the vaccine itself, according to a new Australian study. Looking at the past seven years, the researchers found that whenever news coverage spiked, the following month saw the number of reported adverse events to the vaccine increase. The authors suggest that some of these events were caused by negative expectations, heightened anxiety and social contagion brought on by repeated media attention to adverse events, some of which had been reported before the vaccine was available in NZ.

Journal/conference: Vaccine

Organisation/s: The University of New South Wales

Funder: This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Media Release

From: Elsevier

Bad news: The influence of news coverage and Google searches on Gardasil adverse event reporting


Background: Human papilloma virus vaccines are a safe and effective tool for reducing HPV  infections that can cause cervical cancer. However, uptake of these vaccines has been suboptimal, with many people holding negative beliefs and misconceptions. Such beliefs have been linked with the experience of unpleasant side effects following medical treatment, and media coverage may heighten such concerns.

Methods: The present study sought to assess the influence of news coverage (number of news articles per month) on adverse event reporting in response to Gardasil vaccination in New Zealand over a 7.5-year period, and whether the influence of news coverage was mediated by internet search activity (Google search volumes). Multiple linear regression analyses and simple mediation analyses were used, controlling for year and number of vaccinations delivered.

Results: News coverage in the previous month, and Google search volumes in the same month, were significant predictors of adverse event reporting, after accounting for vaccination rates and year. Concurrent Google search volumes partially mediated the effect of prior news coverage.

Conclusion: The results suggest that some of the adverse events reported were not related to the vaccination itself, but to news coverage and internet search volumes, which may have contributed to public concerns about potentially unpleasant or harmful outcomes. These findings have implications for the importance of psychological and social factors in adverse event reporting, and the role of the news media in disseminating health information.


Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, vaccinologist, University of Auckland; Director of Research, Immunisation Advisory Centre

The Centre for Adverse Reaction Monitoring receives reports from health professionals and the public about adverse events that occur following a medicine or alternative health product. Most vaccine-associated reports come from nurses. Many of the events reported will not be caused by the preceding vaccine but the system is in place to detect any unusual or unexpected patterns, not to determine the safety profile of a vaccine.

When people get reminded about an adverse event through the media they may be more likely to report it. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. What is not so good is the potential for scare stories with no evidence to support them to rattle people’s confidence. We know from other studies that this can happen and affect the decision to vaccinate.

An important fact is that the Gardasil vaccine is extremely safe, a status supported by many extraordinarily large global scientific studies. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than have a severe reaction to the vaccine.

Last updated: 13 Nov 2017 3:52pm

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