Press Release Medicine – designed to trick the gullible By Jenny Thompson
It was splashed all over the web pages of The New York Times, Time magazine, and dozens of other widely-read publications.
Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco claimed they had the smoking-gun proof that a common childhood vaccine can prevent leukemia.
And from there, the pro-vax media ran wild.
But this wasn’t some scientific breakthrough — and the only thing those researchers discovered was how to game the press. Because it looks like they were participating in a dangerous new trend called “Press Release Medicine.”
Press Release Medicine is designed to trick the gullible media into reporting unproven, non-existent benefits of billion-dollar vaccines and drugs.
And in this case, it may have been used to hide the truth about a vaccine that’s not working and could be leaving countless kids at risk for deadly infections.
Separating fact from Fiction
There are two rules to what health watchdogs are increasingly calling Press Release Medicine:
- Put out a press release making a bold and wildly unsupported claim about a vaccine, drug or surgery.
- Wait for lazy and unqualified members of the media to run with the story, no questions asked.
And when UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center put out a press release last month claiming that the Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) vaccine can reduce a child’s risk of leukemia by 20 percent, they executed the Press Release Medicine strategy to perfection.
Lead scientist Dr. Markus Muschen claimed he and his colleagues discovered the exact mechanism by which the Hib vaccine — which is given to babies and designed to prevent bacterial infections that can cause pneumonia and meningitis — keeps cells from turning cancerous.
Muschen even doubled down and declared that it’s “common knowledge that vaccines protect against cancer and leukemia.”
And that was all it took for major outlets like The New York Times and Time magazine to declare the story true and share it with their readers. These reporters didn’t look into the science behind Muschen’s claims — and, for the most part, they weren’t qualified to.
Before she became an overnight cancer research expert, the Time reporter had been covering Bruce Jenner’s gender change and some controversial quotes from an old Seinfeld character.
And, of course, that’s why Press Release Medicine works so well. There are plenty of lazy and under-qualified reporters and editors who will cover any health news that sounds like it’s coming from a reputable source.
And while many members of the media didn’t ask too many questions about the Hib study, I did.
It turns out this research was on mouse enzymes. Muschen and his colleagues didn’t study a single child — nor was there a single case of leukemia prevented.
Tara Haelle, who writes for NPR (there are still some good reporters out there), started digging into Muschen’s claim that the Hib vaccine was helping kids ward off leukemia. And she couldn’t find a single scientist who agreed.
Haelle interviewed experts from Emory University and the University of California, Berkeley, and they all told her the same thing: “Nothing in this paper proves that the Hib vaccine reduces leukemia risk.”
She even tracked down Dr. Paul Offit, head of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and one of America’s biggest vaccination supporters. Offit refused to claim there’s a connection between the Hib shot and a reduced cancer risk.
So why are pro-vax researchers giving us this deceptive hard sell on the Hib vaccine? Why are they so intent on finding another, different reason for parents to choose it for their kids?
One reason may be that the Hib shot seems to be failing at its primary job — decreasing the number of Hib infections in America. Hib cases have risen just about every year since the mid-1990s, despite that fact that there’s more than a 90 percent vaccination rate.
And that’s no surprise because kids who get the Hib vaccine are up to five times more likely to get Hib illnesses than children who skip the shot. The Hib vaccine apparently suppresses the immune system, which can leave newly vaccinated kids vulnerable to the most serious type of Hib infection — bacterial meningitis.
In fact, as far back as 1995 the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System showed a big uptick in young kids coming down with Hib infections within a month after receiving the vaccine.
That’s a serious risk that should be communicated to parents who are deciding whether the Hib vaccine is right for their kids. Just don’t expect to read about it in some mainstream, pro-vax press release.
“How a claim that a childhood vaccine prevents leukemia went too far” Tara Haelle, May 27, 2015, NPR, npr.org
“UCSF-led study explains how early childhood vaccination reduces leukemia risk” Juliana Bunim, May 18, 2015, UCSF.edu
“How a childhood vaccine reduces risk of a cancer” Nicholas Bakalar, May 20, 2015, The New York Times, well.blogs.nytimes.com