Katie Couric, as a former evening news anchor, had been polishing her image as a more serious, respectable journalist for quite some time. All of that is gone now, with a staggeringly misguided segment on the HPV vaccine. Here’s Amanda Marcotte:

“The HPV vaccine is considered a life-saving cancer preventer, but is it a potentially deadly dose for girls?” This was the promo for Wednesday’s episode of Katie, Katie Couric’s daytime talk show on ABC…I held out hope that her show would demonstrate that no matter how adamant a very small group of people are that their health problems are caused by the HPV vaccine, there is no evidence that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. Sadly, my hopes were dashed as Couric spent a half-hour of her show drumming up fears that the vaccine will make you very ill or even kill you.

The evidence on this is not mixed at all. Basically, HPV causes tens of thousands of cases of cancer and thousands of deaths, and multiple studies show that it is basically harmless. Alexandra Sifferlin lays out the evidence well:

The bottom line is that there is no scientific evidence that the HPV vaccine causes adverse effects beyond normal vaccine side effects, such as dizziness, nausea, and pain and redness at the injection site. According to the CDC, from June 2006-March 2013, some 57 million doses of HPV vaccines were distributed. In that period, some 22,000 adverse event were reported in girls and women who had received HPV vaccines; 92% of those were classified as “non serious.”

The risks of HPV, on the other hand, are quite real. Every year, about 12,000 U.S. women get cervical cancer, and HPV is the leading cause. HPV can also cause other cancers like vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and neck and throat cancers, which is why the CDC recommends the vaccine for girls and boys aged 11 or 12—before most adolescents become sexually active. CDC data show that roughly 79 million Americans have HPV, and about 14 million people become infected each year. The HPV vaccine can prevent a good number of these infections, and thus millions of potential cases of cancer.

Never forget: vaccines save lives, and scaremongering about them literally kills babies. Like Alyssa Rosenberg, I am completely baffled that Couric would take such a risk with her reputation and livelihood over an issue which doesn’t even bring in much advertising revenue—if she were shilling for climate deniers, at least there would be a potential pecuniary interest. At a guess, I’d chalk it up to mood affiliation, bad journalistic habits, and most importantly, scientific illiteracy.

For more, see this video by friend of the blog Aaron Carroll:

YouTube video

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Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanlcooper. Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The Nation.