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UBC researcher defends Gardasil vaccine study after it gets pulled

Christopher Shaw is standing behind a study he co-authored linking the HPV vaccine with behavioural changes even though it was removed by the journal.

Christopher Shaw, a professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UBC, is defending a study he co-authored that suggests the vaccine Gardasil could trigger behavioural changes in mice. On Tuesday, the study was temporarily removed by the journal Vaccine a month after it was published.

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Christopher Shaw, a professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UBC, is defending a study he co-authored that suggests the vaccine Gardasil could trigger behavioural changes in mice. On Tuesday, the study was temporarily removed by the journal Vaccine a month after it was published.

A University of B.C. professor who co-authored a study linking the HPV vaccine to behavioural issues is defending the research, despite the paper being pulled from a scientific journal.

Christopher Shaw, a professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UBC, said he doesn’t know why the journal Vaccine removed the study, which suggested the vaccine Gardasil could trigger behavioural changes in mice.

“It was peer reviewed, it was accepted with revisions, and it was posted to the website, so all of a sudden we’re not quite sure why they have decided to go back and look at it again,” Shaw told Metro. “It’s the editor’s prerogative to do that but we haven’t heard any reasons for it.”

The study appeared online in Vaccine on Jan. 9. But on Tuesday, a month after it was published, the article’s abstract was replaced with a message that the publisher has temporarily removed the article. The note doesn’t explain why, but states that a replacement message will appear soon either giving a reason or reinstating the article.

A request for comment from Vaccine editor-in-chief Dr. Gregory Poland was not immediately returned Tuesday. However, the blog Retraction Watch reported that Poland pulled the paper with a recommendation that it be further reviewed.

But Shaw said he doesn’t understand why there would be a need for further review after the study has already gone through an extensive peer review process.

Shaw said he had a minimal role in the study, which was carried out mostly by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

He said he became involved in the study because Lucija Tomljenovic, a post-doctoral research fellow in his lab at UBC, contributed to the research.

After reviewing the study, Shaw said the science appeared to be solid.

“I wouldn’t have let my name be on it if I didn’t think it was,” he said, adding that the only changes he made to the paper were grammatical.

This isn’t the first time Shaw and Tomljenovic, who frequently collaborate on studies, have found themselves in hot water for their work.

The UBC researchers co-authored a 2011 study suggesting vaccines containing aluminum could induce conditions like autism. The World Health Organization discredited the study, describing the research as “seriously flawed.”

Speaking about the study, Shaw said the WHO is “entitled to its opinion” but defended the research, adding that the paper was heavily reviewed and held up to scrutiny.

Tomljenovic declined an interview request, but in an email, speculated that the study might have been removed as a result of lobbying by pharmaceutical companies. She said the journal notes on its website that articles might be removed if its recommendations could pose a serious health risk.

"The reason for 'temporarily' removing our paper may be this: if it was to be wildly circulated it would deprive the world of these allegedly 'life saving' cervical cancer vaccines, and as a result 'million of women' would surely die," she wrote. "That could not be further from the truth, but that is what pharma would have us believe."

Tomljenovic added there is no long-term clinical data to show that the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer.

Shaw said he is eagerly awaiting a response from the journal Vaccine about why the study was pulled.

“It’s odd to say the very least,” he said. “Until we know what the journal found objectionable and why they took this step, there’s really nothing to say because we don’t know.”