‘A Montreal social scientist and the federal agency that awarded her almost $300,000 to study the HPV vaccine are facing criticism after the professor condemned the vaccine and called for a moratorium on its use.
Concordia University’s Genevieve Rail also said there is no proof that the human papillomavirus directly causes cervical cancer, though a German scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize five years ago for discovering the link.
Experts say Rail’s public attacks are seriously misinformed and risk undermining an important public-health program — and they question why the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) would fund her work.
The $270,000 that Rail — who has a doctorate in kinesiology — received is to examine HPV vaccination “discourses” and their effect on teenagers, using in part interviews and drawings.
“This is akin to funding research that purports to show tobacco smoking does not cause lung cancer,” charged Eduardo Franco, head of cancer epidemiology at McGill University. “And that tobacco cessation, rather than helping reduce risk, is actually causing harm … CIHR would not fund such a study, would it?”
Marc Steben, a Montreal family doctor and chair of the Canadian Network on HPV Prevention, was more blunt.
“I don’t know who was on her (grant awarding) jury,” he said. “Someone was really sleeping.”
The uproar arose after Rail and co-author Abby Lippman, a McGill University professor emeritus, published an op-ed article in Le Devoir newspaper questioning the safety and benefits of human papillomavirus vaccines, and urging Quebec to halt HPV immunization until its alleged dangers are independently investigated.
There have been other critiques of the vaccine recently — from sources as diverse as Catholic boards of education to a now-discredited newspaper article — but Rail’s assessment stands out because of her university faculty position and federal grant to examine the issue.
She and Lippman voiced similar views at the World Congress on Public Health in India last February, heading a workshop that encouraged participants to be “on the offensive against the vaccine,” and suggesting that “politicians are paid off” to adopt the programs.’