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I’ve been writing about antivaccine pseudoscience for a long time now, both here and elsewhere. Indeed, I was thinking about this the other day and realized that I made my first big splash countering antivaccine misinformation around 13 years ago, and that I had spent about five years before that sparring with antivaxers on Usenet. In that time, I’ve seen all manner of pseudoscience, misinformation, and outright lies about vaccines, including claims that vaccines cause autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, autoimmune disease, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, and more. I’ve even seen claims that “shaken baby syndrome” (now known as abusive head trauma) is actually a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury, with antivaxers going so far as to defend child killers by claiming that it was vaccines that killed the baby, not the child abuser. As a result, there is little that antivaxers say that surprises me much anymore.

Unfortunately, included in this lack of surprise is a common claim made about vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV), in particular against Gardasil, which are designed to prevent cervical cancer by preventing the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. (Why I don’t see nearly as much fear mongering about the other major HPV vaccine, Cervarix, I don’t know.) For some reason, the antivaccine movement harbors an unusually high degree of hostility for and fear of Gardasil, even though it is intended to prevent a potentially deadly cancer. It’s crazy even by antivaxer standards.

Strike that. The reason is not that mysterious. HPV, several types of which cause cervical cancer, is primarily a sexually transmitted disease. In order to maximize protection, HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls—and, more recently, boys—to ensure that they are protected before they become sexually active, although many who receive it are teens. Basically, yes, it’s primarily about sex, which is why one of the most persistent bits of antivaccine fear mongering about Gardasil is that it causes premature ovarian failure and infertility. It doesn’t.

One of the more extreme claims about Gardasil and Cervarix that makes the rounds from time to time is that the vaccine is killing prepubscent girls. I’ve discussed a number of these cases over the years, both here and elsewhere. Suffice to say, when these cases are critically evaluated, the evidence for a link between Gardasil and the deaths attributed to the vaccine is almost always incredibly thin and unconvincing. One example is Annabelle Morin, whose mother Linda Morin blames Gardasil for her daughter’s death, even though it almost certainly did not. Another example is Jasmine Renata, whose death at a young age was cynically exploited by antivaxers. It even attracted our old antivaccine “friend,” scientist Christopher Shaw, to the proceedings, where he tried to convince New Zealand health authorities that HPV vaccination can cause sudden death and that it caused Renata’s death.

The cases exploited by antivaxers are tragic, and the stories told heart-breaking. No person with an ounce of compassion can read any of them without feeling his heart break for the pain the child who became ill and died suffered and the grief of her family. One can even understand how the parents might come to blame Gardasil, even on the most tenuous of correlation. Discussing such stories requires care and tact, because inevitably any skeptical look at the narrative being promoted by the antivaccine movement will be portrayed as an attack on the dead child and his grieving family.

Unfortunately, they’re at it again; so once more I feel obligated to look into the stories being exploited to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines. This time, there are two tragic cases of teens who died whose deaths antivaxers are blaming on Gardasil. Their names are Jessica Ericzon and Colton Berrett. Both are horrible cases, particularly that of Colton Berrett. Neither, however, are evidence that Gardasil kills, no matter how much antivaxers try to spin them otherwise.

Jasmin Soriat: Death by Gardasil?

Last fall, the UK Association of HPV Vaccine Injured Daughters (AHVID) and SaneVax released a multipart YouTube documentary entitled Sacrificial Virgins. Here’s part I:

Before I discuss the death in the film attributed to Gardasil, I can’t resist commenting on the title of the propaganda video: Sacrificial Virgins. Of course, the imagery in the title is not about a loss of innocence, but a sacrifice of innocence, an image that resonates deeply in human myth, history, religion, and literature. The next question becomes: Sacrifice to what? In general, the implication of human sacrifice, particularly virgin sacrifice, is of ancient, pagan religion, and that’s clearly the imagery the video makers went for here. The implication is that vaccination for HPV is based not on science, but rather on some form of irrational, religious belief system that demands a virgin sacrifice. No one ever accused antivaxers of being subtle.

In the film, Christian Fiala, who, not surprisingly, is an HIV/AIDS denialist and a Board member of the HIV/AIDS denialist group Rethinking AIDS, claims to have identified a 19-year-old woman whose death was caused by HPV vaccination, one of the “virgin sacrifices.” Co-producer of the film, Joan Shenton, also an HIV/AIDS denialist and someone who apparently discovered antivaccine pseudoscience later in life, interviews the pathologist who did the autopsy on the young woman, Prof. Dr. Johan Missliwetz. In the interview, he pointed out that his first autopsy left him unable to find a cause of death, leading him to suspect a genetic heart defect, which is, of course, one of the most common causes of unexplained deaths in young adults. Previous interviews by him don’t really show him saying vaccinations caused the woman’s death. However, in this interview, he claims that his other thought about the cause of death, besides the genetic heart defect, was HPV vaccination, even though it was three weeks after the woman’s second dose of HPV vaccine.

When I first encountered that YouTube video, I could not find out who this unfortunate young woman was. Subsequently, I’ve learned that her name was Jasmin Soriat. Her death was described in—surprise! surprise!—The Daily Mail:

A teenage girl died in her sleep weeks after being given the controversial human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, a new documentary has claimed.

Jasmin Soriat, 19, a student from Vienna, suffered neurological symptoms after having a second dose of the injection and suffered respiratory failure three weeks later.

A pathologist who examined her body has said the vaccine could have been the cause of her death.

Jasmin’s story is one of ‘hundreds of documented deaths following the HPV vaccine’ according to claims in a new three-part documentary, titled Sacrificial Virgins.

And:

Government forensic pathologist Dr Johan Missliwetz was ordered by a court to do a second autopsy on Miss Soriat as the first could not establish the cause of death.

He concluded that the vaccine could have been the cause of her demise.
The doctor, who has now taken early retirement, said: ‘I couldn’t find a reasonable cause of death but had two suspicions. One is a genetic disorder of the heart and the other one, it had to do with vaccination.’

If you examine stories like that of Jasmine Soriat, you’ll find that there are many commonalities. First and foremost, the temporal association between HPV vaccination and death is tenuous at best. In this case, Soriat had the first shot in the series and didn’t have any problems until weeks after her second shot. (The story I will conclude this post with demonstrates an even less convincing association.) If you want to see how tenuous the association between Gardasil and Jasmine Soriat’s death is, take a look at a more contemporaneous account of her death in 2007:

Less that one month after her last Gardasil injection, Jasmin’s friend discovered her body. She had evidently died in her sleep, succumbing to respiratory paralysis.

Jasmin was fit, happy and fun-loving. She had never experienced any serious illnesses, had no lung disease, and had never smoked. She also had no previous problems after any of her normal vaccinations.

Searching for answers, her parents meticulously reconstructed her final hours of life. According to their investigations, “She was at a concert, a Spanish band. Before midnight, she was at a fast food restaurant. She then drove with her flatmate home, via taxi to Dobling. At approximately two o’clock in the morning, she drank som [sic] tea.”

The next morning, her girlfriend came by to check up on her, but Jasmin, according to her friend, “must have died a few hours earlier in her sleep.”

As I’ve discussed before, there was no evidence linking Gardasil to Ms. Soriat’s death, other than a very tenuous temporal link. Far more likely is a genetic disorder of the conduction system of the heart, which can manifest itself as sudden cardiac death and show no anatomic abnormality on autopsy.

Common themes in “death by Gardasil” stories

After you’ve examined a few of them, you’ll rapidly find two main themes among the stories of “death by Gardasil” circulated in the antivaccine underground that make them unconvincing evidence for vaccine injury. First, the temporal link between Gardasil and death is almost always extremely tenuous, often with the patient having received at least one or two shots in the series with no ill effects and the ill effects only arising weeks or months after the shot on which parents place the blame for their child’s illness.

As a typical example, let’s take a look at the case of Christina Tarsell:

Between her junior and senior years, Chris had a summer job working at the college art museum while living with classmates in a house in Tivoli, NY. So after a short visit home to Maryland, Chris returned to Bard and her job on June 13, 2008. During the visit home, on June 3rd, Chris had gotten her third shot of Gardasil.

A few days later, Chris complained of feeling dizzy, tired and she developed a rash on her neck. She had a post-vaccine cough and sinus congestion that wouldn’t go away. We were never told of any side effects to Gardasil so we did not know these signs were significant. Chris was found dead in her bed 18 days after her third shot. What could have happened? Chris was always a healthy, wholesome girl, a non-smoker, an athlete. She didn’t take drugs or medication.

As of this writing, the cause is “undetermined”. Further investigation suggests that Chris, like other girls who died following Gardasil, may have had an autoimmune related response triggered by the vaccine. The CDC wants you to dismiss them as “coincidences,” while our beautiful, innocent daughters die needlessly.

This story has both of the elements that I discuss. The temporal relationship between vaccination and death is questionable, and she had had two shots before the third shot blamed for her death. She developed an unknown illness and died suddenly. Her parents did further “investigation” and concluded that it must have been the Gardasil.

Some stories don’t even tell the interval between vaccination and death. For instance, there’s the case of Megan Hild, who died at age 20 after a mysterious illness. The most detailed account I could find (which was not very detailed at all) only said that when “she started having severe bouts of fatigue, after her first two Gardasil shots, we thought it was due to her schedule” and that “she began to have a multitude of health problems, including terrible headaches and severe stomach pains.” Ultimately, she was found dead at age 21.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way downplaying the tragedy the families of these girls and young women have endured or the grief and anguish they have experienced over the deaths of their daughters. After all, no parent expects to outlive her daughter, and sudden, unexplained deaths of people under 21 are an anomaly. We humans are also pattern-forming creatures; it’s hard-wired into our brains that, when something happens, particularly something that provokes such a strong emotional response in us like the death of a child, there must be a reason. If there is no good explanation available, the very human response to tragedy is to look desperately for one and to latch onto it when we think we’ve found one. For instance, Ms. Hild’s mother summed up exactly the sort of thinking that leads parents suffering the death of a child to come to erroneous conclusions about what caused that death:

On her death certificate it will read, Cause of death unknown. She’s my daughter and I loved her!!!! I will never see her graduate college. I will never see her wear a wedding dress and hold her babies in her arms.

The one thing in common that four out of the five girls that I have featured is that the actual cause of death is unknown. How can that be? How can these healthy, active young women for no apparent reason just die? That does not make any logical sense to me. There has to be a reason because things like this just do not happen, period.

Unfortunately, things like this most definitely can and do happen. We humans are simply unable to accept that, which leads to parents in mourning blaming vaccines for the deaths of their children.

Colton Berrett and his mother

Colton Berrett and his mother in a screen cap from the video made by the VAXXED crew.

The sad case of Colton Berrett: Transverse myelitis due to Gardasil, followed by suicide

This brings us to one of the more unusual and painful “death by Gardasil” stories. It’s also the most recent one circulating in the antivaccine underground, the death having occurred one month ago today. Truth be told, I stayed away from this story as long as I could, but I kept seeing more and more posts on antivaccine websites, blogs, and Facebook pages that I finally couldn’t ignore it any more. I’m referring to the tragic case of a young man named Colton Berrett, who has been portrayed as “another teen sacrificed by the HPV vaccine.” Basically, Berrett was an 17-year-old who had contracted transverse myelitis at age 13. His mother blamed his transverse myelitis on his having received the HPV vaccine. As you will see, as is usual with tragic cases like that of Colton Berrett, the story does not even provide a strong suggestion that Gardasil caused this unfortunate young man’s health problems and ultimate death.

None of this stopped Melissa Curtin of Stop Mandatory Vaccination from outrage at the death as having definitely been due to Gardasil:

Deep tidal waves of sadness and devastation shook a community of parents, caregivers, family and friends of vaccine injured and deceased children to its core — after learning about the death of Colton Berrett on January 5th, 2018, in Utah. Heartbreaking, heart-shattering, devastating, horrific, crushing – and most importantly, unnecessary. Another tragic death of a child damaged by and caused from vaccines, and in this case, it was the Gardasil/Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV) that took his life. Colton is one of thousands of severely vaccine injured children who ultimately lost his life and succumbed to the toxic travesty of vaccine injury and damage. He courageously battled for his survival. May he rest in peace and his story be shared widely. May his family be surrounded by love, community, and find peace in their hearts through this difficult time.

Colton was a vibrant, healthy, lively, intelligent, happy, positive, athletic, thrill-seeking boy with unbridled potential and a bright future. Only his future and life was robbed not just from him, but also from his loving family, his mother, father, and two siblings, from everyone that met him, and the larger community and world that will never have the opportunity to meet this adventurous, courageous, young man.

I have no reason to doubt that Colton was as described. I have no doubt that his family is grieving and suffering. I have no doubt that, before his death, Colton suffered. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be an active 13-year-old struck down and paralyzed by a neurological condition like this and then, four years later, realizing that there was basically no hope of recovering any more than Colton had recovered. That being said, however, I have many doubts about the claims being made about how Gardasil caused Colton’s illness and demise, for reasons that I will explain.

It doesn’t help that it was Polly Tommey and the VAXXED crew who first publicized his story in the antivaccine underground last year:

Whenever I see anyone who had anything to do with the antivaccine propaganda “documentary” VAXXED, which was produced by Del Bigtree and directed by Andrew Wakefield, I see many red flags. After all, since the release of the movie in 2016, the VAXXED crew has been cruising the country, collecting stories like that of Colton that they can use in a follow-up movie, harassing scientists, and trying to influence legislators to pass laws favorable to their antivaccine agenda. In other words, not only are the VAXXED crew not objective, its members are the farthest from objective that you can imagine. They are die-hard ideologues who believe, against all evidence otherwise, that vaccines cause serious harm. Anything posted by VAXXED is to be viewed with extreme skepticism.

The video and his mother’s account above agree here:

A medical physical was required for Colton to attend a scout camp. This was prior to his 8th grade school year. His pediatrician and long-time family doctor recommended the HPV Vaccine to his mother, Kathleen. His doctor claimed the HPV Vaccine could help prevent cancer, and even if Colton was not promiscuous, he could give the virus to his future wife. Like many parents, Kathleen trusted her doctor. She confidently shared, “The doctor is the one who went to school, and of course you’re going to do what he recommends.”

So Colton got the Gardasil series. Because this was four years ago, he got the three shot series, where the doses are administered at 0, 1-2, and 6 months. (This was the old schedule. The CDC now recommends a two dose schedule for children under 15, with doses at 0 and 6-12 months.)

Colton’s first two doses of Gardasil produced no reported problems, and I’m quite sure that, had there been any problems with the first two doses, the VAXXED account would have definitely mentioned them. In the video above, his mother doesn’t mention any issue until the third dose, nor does any account that I’ve been able to find. Consequently, for six months and two doses, Colton was fine. Then this happened:

Colton was administered the third round of the Gardasil/ HPV Vaccine on February 1, 2014, about a month and a half just shy of his 14th birthday. About two weeks after, he experienced a painful neck ache following the vaccine and was given Tylenol to alleviate the pain. Adventurous by nature, the next day, Colton and his dad went motor-cross riding to use Colton’s new bike. That day when he arrived home, he became pale, started to feel nauseous, and was not well that evening – he headed to bed. Kathleen continued to check on him throughout the night and Colton expressed he could not use his right arm. Intuitively, Kathleen worried if he had spinal meningitis and if her son was going paralyzed. A mother’s or any concerned parent’s nightmare.

Colton’s dad brought Colton to urgent care at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City the next morning, on Monday, February 17, 2014. Colton was almost completely paralyzed and that was the beginning of his 88 day hospital stay. Doctors and staff discovered through speaking with Colton’s parents that he was healthy, active, and not sick, until he received the HPV Vaccine two weeks earlier and experienced the neck ache. It was agreed that Colton suffered a severe adverse reaction and vaccine injury to the Gardasil vaccine. The doctors reported his vaccine injury to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

So, basically, Colton had no problems at all until two weeks after the third dose of Gardasil. What I find odd is the account that the doctors were so quick to say that they were going to report Colton’s case to VAERS, particularly after the third dose. That part of the story strikes me as rather odd. Be that as it may, this is what happened next:

Colton was originally diagnosed with Acute Longitudinal Transverse Myelitis; C1 through T-12 were affected (Cervical-1, through Thoracic-12). The inflammation in his spinal cord caused the paralysis which started in his neck and full right arm. His left arm was starting to lose function and become paralyzed. Colton was also having difficulty breathing, so intubation and a ventilator were needed. Paralysis continued spreading throughout his body and it was not too long before Colton lost his speech ability. Able only to communicate using the “thumbs up or thumbs down” method, that was soon halted due to loss of movement in his thumbs. Colton’s new reality included daily therapy to avoid infection and pneumonia, irregular temperature regulation, hot/cold packs for the spikes and drops in temperature, being uncomfortable with a cervical collar, and all this with a 15 pound ventilator/breathing machine. His family referred to this as his “ball and chain.”

Acute longitudinal transverse myelitis (ALTM) is a condition that involves inflammation of the spinal cord, in Colton’s case, C1-T12, which is a huge stretch of spinal cord. Here is a schematic of the spinal cord below that shows what a large portion of the spinal cord that was involved:

human spinal cord

The human spinal cord

There are a number of suspected causes of ALTM. The National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke notes that the cause of ALTM is unknown in most cases, but that the discovery of circulating antibodies to the proteins aquaporin-4 and anti-myelin oligodendrocyte point to a definite cause in some individuals with transverse myelitis. Aquaporin-4 is a key protein that carries water through the cell membrane of neural cells. The myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein sits on the outer layer of myelin. Basically, the NINDS notes that the following conditions predispose to ATLM:

  • Immune system disorders
  • Viral infections.
  • Bacterial infections such as syphilis, tuberculosis, actinomyces and Lyme disease, as well as bacterial skin infections, middle-ear infections, campylobacter jejuni gastroenteritis, and mycoplasma bacterial pneumonia.
  • Fungal infections in the spinal cord, including Aspergillus, Blastomyces, Coccidioides, and Cryptococcus.
  • Parasites, including Toxoplasmosis, Cysticercosis, Shistosomiasis, and Angtiostrongyloides.
  • Other inflammatory disorders that can affect the spinal cord, such as sarcoidosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, mixed connective tissue disease, scleroderma, and Bechet’s syndrome.
  • Vascular disorders such as arteriovenous malformation, dural arterial-venous fistula, intra spinal cavernous malformations, or disk embolism.

Transverse myelitis can also be the first symptom of an autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis or neuromyelitis optica.

The disease is treated by a number of modalities, depending on what is thought to be the etiology. These modalities can include steroids, plasma exchange, intravenous immunoglobulin, antiviral medications, and other medications to treat symptoms. Most people with transverse myelitis have at least a partial recovery, with most recovery occurring within three months after symptoms arise, although in some patients recovery might take two years. However, if there is no improvement within three to six months, complete recovery is very unlikely, and rapid onset of symptoms (as happened with Colton) generally results in poorer recovery.

According to the account, Colton had to be intubated, and you can see that he still had a tracheostomy tube and was using a portable ventilator, the noted “ball and chain.” He was quadriplegic for a month and a half, and he was unable to communicate for a time other than with his eyebrows and facial expressions. As of the time this video was recorded, his right arm remained paralyzed, and he had only a little use of his left arm. He had, however, regained his core strength and the use of his legs, after prolonged physical therapy. Overall, one can’t help but feel empathy for what this young man went through. At least, I couldn’t while viewing the video.

But did Gardasil cause Colton’s ALTM? It’s highly unlikely. For one thing, evidence does not support a link. A recent study of 64 million doses of vaccines found no association between transverse myelitis and prior immunization, including with HPV vaccines. Yes, I know that antivaxers will cite this paper claiming to find an association between vaccination and transverse myelitis, but it’s nowhere near as good a paper, methodologically speaking, and it’s published by Yehuda Shoenfeld, who has promoted an unproven concept that vaccines cause an autoimmune syndrome that is not accepted by medicine and is known for writing pseudoscientific reports to support antivaccine lawsuits. He’s also been the scientific advisor for at least one antivaccine propaganda movie.

Another explanation for why comes courtesy of someone who knows a lot more about the disease than I do and occurs in the comments after this Facebook post:

This FB post was made in response to a blog post by James Lyon Weiler, Who and What Killed Colton Berrett?, where he charges:

The vaccine changed the life of his family forever – and now, Colton is gone – forever.

I’m a scientist focused on root causes. It is no mystery to me what – and who – killed Colton Berrett.

Selfishness killed Colton Berrett.

Profit killed Colton Berrett.

Vaccine Risk Denialism killed Colton Berrett.

Direct-to-Consumer Marketing killed Colton Berrett.

The FCC killed Colton Berrett.

Pharma Ads in Newspapers killed Colton Berrett.

The Media killed Colton Berrett.

Political donations to campaigns from Vaccine Makers killed Colton Berrett.

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss killed Colton Berrett.

Paul Offit killed Colton Berrett.

Peter Hotez killed Colton Berrett.

Lee Harrison killed Colton Berrett.

Julie Gerberding killed Colton Berrett.

Thomas Frieden killed Colton Berrett.

State Senator Richard Pan killed Colton Berrett.

Coleen Boyle killed Colton Berrett.

Frank Destefano killed Colton Berrett.

Scientific Fraud killed Colton Berrett.

Medical Malfeasance killed Colton Berrett.

ACIP killed Colton Berrett.

CDC killed Colton Berrett.

Merck killed Colton Berrett.

Congress killed Colton Berrett.

The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986 killed Colton Berrett.

FASCISM killed Colton Berrett.

Because of course it did. At the risk of going too far, I can’t resist saying that I’m surprised Weiler didn’t list me as one of Colton Berrett’s “killers.”

In the comments, it’s pointed out that the family’s contemporaneous accounts of Colton’s illness make no mention of vaccines:

We see this sort of thing so often, and it’s so depressing. Basically, it appears that the idea that Gardasil caused Colton’s problems, like the idea that vaccines cause a child’s autism, came later, as the parents looked for explanations and encountered the cranks. In fairness, it’s unclear who wrote the post above, and the parents might not have told others of their suspicions yet, but certainly it seems odd that there is no mention here.

Later in the thread, a scientist further explains why it’s incredibly unlikely that Gardasil caused Colton’s transverse myelitis:

Parts are worth citing in detail:

Based on the statement by Colton’s mother in a Vaxxed video, Colton first developed symptoms two weeks after the vaccination. Transverse myelitis is marked by an extremely fast, fulminant course. It is very surprising for it to arise two weeks after the alleged inciting event. We know a lot about TM from EAE, an experimental/research procedure in which autoimmune encephalitis/myelitis is induced by coupling a myelin protein, such as MOG, with a strong adjuvant – usually Complete Freund’s Adjuvant, sometimes even with the addition of pertussis toxin. Complete Freund’s Adjuvant is an extremely strong adjuvant, so strong that in fact it is often replaced with squalene or AlOH because it is so unpleasant to the animal itself (it’s never used in humans). It makes no logical sense for the HPV vaccine, which does not penetrate the blood/brain barrier, even in the presence of the AlOH adjuvant (like MOG, it’s too big – in EAE, pertussis toxin is used to allow penetration). It makes no sense for the original inflammatory insult and the onset of TM to take so long. And, finally, demyelinating events in HPV are incredibly rare

And:

Having had an encounter with TM before, I am personally deeply sorry for Colton and his family. At the same time, I can’t find much data that in any sense supports the claim that his illness was caused by the HPV vaccine. Personally, I’m also a little dubious as to the ethics of Vaxxed using this young man, who has clearly been through an extremely traumatic and life-changing experience that has deprived him of his very identity as, basically, a prop, with the parents’ agreement. There are repeated assertions that Colton wanted to make the statements that he did, but this is an ethically complex situation. Colton is in a profound sense dependent on his parents, so he might be susceptible to manipulation and coercion to say the message his mother and/or the Vaxxed activitsts [sic] want him to say. Whether this was indeed the case or not, the ethics of burdening a young man in his complex situation with the burden of activism and a very complex message that he himself might not have the qualifications to comprehensively understand (despite his subjective situation, being a bird does not make one an ornithologist and being an alleged vaccine victim does not make one fit to judge often complex scientific evidence proving vaccines are safe). Life is short, fragile and infinitely precious.

Indeed it is.

The tragic end to Colton Berrett’s story

As I stated above and consistent with so many other stories promoted by the antivaccine movement to blame a child’s death on Gardasil, Colton Berrett’s story did not end well. Sadly, exactly a month ago on January 5, Colton died:

If you watch this next video, at around the 1:14 mark, a statement from Colton’s mother is read that reveals that Colton took his own life:

The story of Colton Berrett is one of the most tragic stories that I have ever encountered, and, remember, I have blogged about several of the children with incurable cancer treated by cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski. A highly active and happy child, he was unfortunate enough to develop a horrific disease that robbed him of much of his ability to do what he loved the most and rendered him completely dependent upon others for many of his basic activities. He faced a lifetime ahead of him in which he was unlikely ever to get significantly better or recover much more function than he had already recovered. What makes the tragedy so much worse is how the antivacine vultures responsible for VAXXED have swarmed around the family since discovering his case, encouraging his mother to buy into the false notion that Gardasil injured her son to the point where he was so damaged that he took his own life and blaming Gardasil for his suffering and death. Their behavior, their exploitation of Colton and his family, is beyond despicable.

There’s even one case I know of, that of a 12-year-old girl named Meredith Prohaska, who died after receiving Gardasil. It turned out that the coroner had ruled that Gardasil had not resulted in her death. Why? Because she found what did: an overdose of the antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Unsurprisingly, the publications promoting her story never corrected their articles, and Meredith’s story is still featured as a “death by Gardasil” story on the anti-Gardasil website My Gardasil Story and was described without mention of the true cause of death on the quack website Natural Mentor. So, basically, if the cause of death is not determined, to antivaxers it must have been the HPV vaccine. If it is, as in Meredith Prohaska’s case, determined not to have been related to HPV vaccination, then antivaxers never correct their previous stories. Either that, or the coroner’s findings are dismissed as part of the conspiracy to cover up the dangers of Gardasil.

There is abundant evidence that HPV vaccines are safe and effective, despite the myths about them promoted by the antivaccine movement. Unfortunately, a combination of that very human need to have an explanation for the death of a child and opportunistic exploitation of that need by leaders of the antivaccine movement lead to cases like that of Colton Berrett, Annabelle Morin, Jasmine Soriat, and Christina Tarsell being promoted as “evidence” that Gardasil kills even though they are nothing of the sort. Sadly, the empathy that we all feel for parents who have lost children tends to lead people to take the version of the story presented by the parents and antivaccine movement at face value and accept their conclusion that Gardasil killed their children.

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Posted by David Gorski

Dr. Gorski's full information can be found here, along with information for patients. David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery, where he also serves as the American College of Surgeons Committee on Cancer Liaison Physician as well as an Associate Professor of Surgery and member of the faculty of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Wayne State University. If you are a potential patient and found this page through a Google search, please check out Dr. Gorski's biographical information, disclaimers regarding his writings, and notice to patients here.