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In the news lately is a coroner’s inquest into the death of Rhonda Renata’s daughter, Jasmine. Rhona Renata pins her daughter’s death on the HPV vaccine Gardasil despite suggestions to (also) investigate other causes such as heart disease.

While considering if I should write something on this well-known blogger ‘Orac’* has spoken out. In particular, he questions if two of the expert witnesses are fair or reasonable.

He notes that one (Dr. Lee) was sacked from his hospital:

“One wonders if the inquest board was aware that Dr. Lee was unceremoniously given the boot as director of the diagnostic laboratory at Milford Hospital in December 2010.”

and presents aspects of the past track record of another (Dr. Shaw).**

New Zealander Hilary Butler, founder of IAS***, also gets a mention.

Read Orac’s article out for yourself. One commenter, herr doktor bimler (4:06am), writes:

“The coroner is not completely uninformed. Right at the start of the inquest, he invited testimony from a high-ranking public-health adviser (about the checks that had been performed on this particular batch of Gardasil, and about the information available for informed choice) from a cardiologist; from the nurse.

I suspect that the coroner knows perfectly well about Dr Lee’s current situation of self-employment, but one aspect of his job is to let grieving families say whatever makes them feel better… and if this involves letting their experts’ claims about professional standing go unchallenged, so be it.”

Perhaps the issue, then, is not that the coroner be aware of these elements but that the general public be aware of them?

The New Zealand Science Media Centre offers commentary from vaccine experts on it’s website and links to the articles in the media covering this story.

In any event these things must come back to what conclusions can be soundly drawn from present-day science – something that I imagine challenges many coroner’s in cases like these. There’s a saying virologist Vincent Racaniello put as the title of an articletrust science, not scientists. What does science say, not the testimony of individuals? I’ve previously suggested the review literature as a proxy of sorts for this (bearing in mind that this isn’t a flawless approach). Science means more than the result of one study or investigation but what can be drawn from all of them, taken together.

Footnotes

A number of anti-vaccine groups have been pushing this case, notably SaneVax. So far I haven’t been able to locate a publicly-available ‘original’ copy of the testimonials that SaneVax has quoted. (It would be good to read an original in it’s full context and to see to what extent his material was questioned. I’m curious about some of the claims made but I can’t do much without the original transcripts, especially as anti-vaccine sources have been known to quote selectively.)

* Not his real name. Fans of Dr. Who Blake’s 7 may find the pseudonym familiar. So that readers might know, he’s an oncologist (a media specialising in cancer) and has a long track record investigating anti-vaccine claims among others.

** In another article criticising a review Dr. Shaw wrote proposing that a tentative link (in his mind) between aluminium (in vaccines) and autism be investigated, Orac relates how Dr. Shaw spoke at an anti-vaccine meeting in Jamaica.

*** I’ve had occasion to write about some of the inaccurate claims coming from this group – some are listed below.


Some related articles at Code for life:

IAS talks about vaccination

Immunisation, then and now

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisation statements in the print media

Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not

Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy