"If the contents of either of the papers became widely known it would surely have sounded the global death knell for the products and also called twelve years of government policy into question. When balancing the welfare of British children against the interests of industry and state it seems in the end the children barely weighed."
Serious ethical questions arise over the role of British Medical Journal and the promotion of Human Papillomavirus vaccines. Back in May BMJ published a news report of the Cochrane Review of HPV vaccines by former London Times journalist Nigel Hawkes “HPV vaccines are effective and safe and work best in young women, review finds”. It has come to light in the blog of Prof David Healy (author Pharmageddon and Let Them Eat Prozac ) that the BMJ knew the reasons for this confidence were at best extremely controversial, and that the journal itself had turned down an earlier paper by members of Nordic Cochrane (including leading scientists Peter Gøtzsche and Tom Jefferson) highlighting major flaws in the science surrounding the products. Healy states:
“ Some months back, the Nordic Cochrane Center, one of the centres in the Cochrane Collaboration, sent a review of studies done on the HPV vaccine to the BMJ. Much to their surprise, BMJ turned down this article which contained all studies done on HPV and a serious attempt to flag up the limitations of the trials and accordingly the limitations of what we could confidently say.”
This paper is still unpublished but two weeks ago BMJ Evidenced Based Medicine published a second paper by the Nordic Cochrane group, Lars Jørgensen, Peter Gøtzsche and Tom Jefferson attacking the foundations of the Cochrane Review, as reported on Age of Autism last week and now available in full from Prof Healy’s site. Despite the BMJ Group publication the main journal chose not to publicise this extraordinarily newsworthy event. (It might be said that news is not what it was and this is one of the most blatant suppressions of the news in modern medicine - the "Fake" comes in not reporting.)
While there is no doubt that the BMJ Group is commercially conflicted, not only accepting advertising from all the manufacturers – GSK, Merck and Sanofi - but also being in historic partnership with Merck, perhaps the real reasons are even more disturbing and relate BMJ’s peculiar relationship as the journal of the British Medical Association (the doctors’ trade union) with the British medical profession. If the contents of either of the papers became widely known it would surely have sounded the global death knell for the products and also called twelve years of government policy into question. When balancing the welfare of British children against the interests of industry and state it seems in the end the children barely weighed.
Last week the present writer tried to challenge a senior BMA member - Dr Peter English, Chair of its Public Health Medicines Committee - in the on-line columns of BMJ:
“As a “Public Health Physician” Peter English seems to express a breath-taking disdain for the public, while also apparently eliding any critical view of vaccines at all with being “anti-science”… I wonder what he thinks the public, particularly prospective vaccinees and their families, should be allowed to know about the recent paper by Jørgensen regarding the inadequacies in the trialing of HPV vaccines?”.
Naturally, it was not published.
PostScript: In a 2008 letter to BMJ regarding HPV vaccine, co-signed by Prof Keith Neal, Peter English discloses:
"Competing interests: Between them the authors have given occasional lectures for, received expenses for professional conferences from, and participated in advisory boards for various pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Pasteur MSD, and others."
John Stone is UK and European editor of Age of Autism