Dr. Diane Harper and HPV vaccines–the tin foil hat version

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2013. This article has been updated and re-published in a new article. The comments for this article are closed, so please comment in the new article.

I have written in the past about Dr. Diane Harper, a former Merck & Co. researcher who apparently had some management role in the clinical trials of the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, also known as Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe), which blocks the transmission of several types of  human papillomavirus (HPV).

There are very few actions one can take in life to prevent even one of the 250 different types of cancer. Stop smoking. Keep a healthy weight. Stay out of the sun. And get an actual cancer preventing vaccine, like Gardasil.

The HPV cancer prevention vaccine is a vitally important part of the war against infectious diseases and some types of cancer. This vaccine blocks infection by several types of HPV. which are linked to approximately 70% of cervical cancers, and cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked) and penile (35% linked) cancers. These HPV-related cancers can be prevented as long as you can prevent the HPV infection itself, which are generally passed through genital contact, most often during vaginal, oral and anal sex.

According to the dark recesses of the internet that are devoted to the cause of denying the value of vaccines, Dr. Harper had decided to “come clean” about Gardasil so that she could “sleep at night.”

The antivaccination world has attached themselves to this story, because they think it uncovers a conspiracy or lies by the vaccine manufacturers, since obviously Dr. Harper escaped from the evil clutches of Big Pharma. And because antivaccinationists do their “research” by Google, of course, this story keeps getting repeated until it becomes The Truth™.

The Truth™ about Dr. Diane Harper


You can read the whole article I mentioned above, but here were the conclusions:

In a 2012 peer-reviewed article about Cervarix, Dr. Harper states that “Cervarix is an excellent choice for both screened and unscreened populations due to its long-lasting protection, its broad protection for at least five oncogenic HPV types, the potential to use only one-dose for the same level of protection, and its safety.”

Again, she speculates that cervical cancer screening may be just as useful, but nowhere does she recommend that the vaccine not be used, that it’s safety profile is unacceptable, or that the vaccine cannot prevent cancer. In fact, she recommends expanding the guidelines for HPV vaccines for older women because as they age, they are more susceptible to other serotypes of HPV, against which Cervarix confers protection. She also states that Cervarix may also have a protective effect against some autoimmune disorders. This does not sound like a researcher who is losing sleep about the HPV vaccine, but who fully supports its use, with some exceptions.

Dr. Diane Harper is one of the leading researchers in biomedical science, an individual who has spent her life studying vaccines. She has the academic training and research credibility at a level that if she said “Gardasil is dangerous”, many of us would stand up and begin to wonder.

But the facts are she has not said anything of the sort about Gardasil and Cervarix. In peer-reviewed articles published in important, high impact journals, she has given strong, but scientifically qualified, endorsements to HPV vaccines. These are the facts. Any other allegations about her lack of support for vaccinations is based on misinformation, disinformation and lies.

Gardasil does not increase sexual activity of young girls. HPV vaccinations were found to be extremely safe, with no serious adverse events observed in large clinical trials. And it has been shown to reduce the prevalence of HPV in young women. These are the scientific facts, and from them, we can conclude, as did Dr. Harper, that HPV vaccines save lives.

More of The Truth™


Dr. Harper is an advocate for the vaccine, and has remained steadfast in her support of the vaccine over the past few years. She has some nuanced concerns about the cost-effectiveness of the vaccine if women have regular screenings for pre-cancerous cells, but she has never said that it was unsafe or ineffective.

And many researchers disagree with her reliance on pre-screening, because even pre-cancerous cells may cause significant issues to reproductive health–in other words, preventing even milder forms of HPV-induced diseases add significantly to the overall benefit of the vaccine.

Not The Truth™


So, you’d think it was time for me to move along to discrediting another antivaccine meme; unfortunately, I had to hit the brakes and return to the Dr. Harper story. I saw an article about her in one of the most abominable anti-science websites on the internet, NaturalNews.

For those of you who do not know, NaturalNews, founded by Mike “The Health Ranger” Adams, is a quack website that promotes nearly every type of medical woo one could imagine. But he specializes in vaccine denialism, AIDS/HIV denial, snake oil cancer therapies, and various conspiracy theories.

And he thinks President Obama is out to suppress Americans through gun control, RFID chips, and vaccines. Without a doubt, NaturalNews is the single worst place to get any real science, hence it is adored by the antivaccine gangsters, because lacking any scientific intellect, NaturalNews is their “evidence”.

In a recent article in his junk medicine mouthpiece, the author repeated the same stories about Dr. Harper that I, and others, have refuted time and again. However, the author of the NaturalNews article took notice of the number of stories that debunked the assertion that she ever made these statements (at least how they were interpreted by the antivaccination hooligans), so the author made this outrageous claim:

But not long after clearing her conscience on this important issue so that she could sleep at night, Dr. Harper basically retracted all of her statements, claiming that media reports citing them were made up. What? The vaccine industry or some other power apparently got to Dr. Harper and convinced her to change her story — either that or she is schizophrenic.

The jackbooted secret agents of Big Pharma apparently “got to Dr. Harper.” Or gave her mind altering drugs to cause schizophrenia. It’s amazing how much power Big Pharma has. Of course, it’s hard for me to write this story with three of those jackbooted agents staring over my shoulder. One of them appears to have the ability to break my skull with his pinky finger.

Back to The Truth™


Dr. Harper never retracted her statements, because there was nothing to retract. She clarified what she said to anyone who asked, and simply stated that she never said what the antivaccine crowd says she said.

And since there is nearly a decade of published research from Dr. Harper, all of which have been pretty consistent (including an article published June 2013) about her support of the vaccine, there really was absolutely nothing to disavow. But several years ago, Ben Goldacre, a physician who spends time challenging the Pharmaceutical industry for its practices (but is solidly pro-science, and despises junk medicine), actually spoke to Diane Harper. She said,

I did not say that Cervarix was as deadly as cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix could be riskier or more deadly than cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix was controversial, I stated that Cervarix is not a ‘controversial drug’. I did not ‘hit out’ – I was contacted by the press for facts. And this was not an exclusive interview.

Maybe Dr. Harper said something to people she later regretted. Maybe as a relatively unknown researcher working her butt off in a lab, to get a little fame was soothing to the ego. Maybe she was intentionally misquoted. But since all the quotes sound similar, my guess is that her comments were taken out a highly nuanced and complex scientific explanation of whether Gardasil has a strong benefit to cost ratio (purely from an economic standpoint).

And typical of the antivaccination world, they steal the information that serves their nefarious goals rather than try to explain the whole story. Given Dr. Harper’s rather consistent support of HPV vaccinations, whatever the case may be, it’s clear she’s not a vaccine denier.

Now some of us do have some concerns about Dr. Harper’s words that sometimes make no sense. She seems to sway from one “belief” to another depending on who criticizes her or who gives her support. Sometimes, she appears to be confused. But her publications, in very well respected journals, indicate that she thinks HPV vaccines are important.

Gardasil saves lives, and Dr. Diane Harper says that.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!