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Gardasil HPV Vaccine: Is It Safe?

Photo credit: BlueGoa

No one seems to know for sure.

Will I give it to my 9 year old daughter?

No. I plan to wait at least until she’s 11 or 12. Hopefully, by then, we’ll have some more information.

The vaccine is designed to prevent infection from the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus that causes cervical cancer. To be most effective, it should be given to girls before they have sex and may be exposed to the virus. The vaccine is routinely recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls, but can be given as early as age 9. It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.

While cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer among women worldwide and the third-most fatal, causing 290,000 deaths a year, the disease is rare in the United States, where regular screening for adult women catches most precancerous cases. About 3,700 American women die of cervical cancer every year.

The HPV vaccine doesn’t guarantee that a woman won’t get cervical cancer or warts, but it protects against the two most common viral strains, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer worldwide.

Some doctors are concerned about the vaccine’s safety because long-term side effects of the vaccine are unknown. In addition, no one knows for sure for how long the vaccine - which requires three shots - is effective. It seems to be effective for at least five years.

Research also hasn’t considered what effect the vaccine has on the remaining 13 strains of HPV that also cause cervical cancer. It’s possible that the remaining strains may fill the void left if the two most common strains are wiped out entirely, so that the vaccine might not make any difference on overall cervical cancer rates.

While the vaccine is considered safe, some serious side effects have been reported, including a severe allergic response (anaphylaxis); neurological conditions, such as paralysis, weakness and brain swelling; and death: 29 fatalities were reported in two years.

The National Vaccine Information Center, a private vaccine safety group, compared Gardasil adverse events to another vaccine, one also given to young people, but for meningitis. Gardasil had three times the number of Emergency Room visits - more than 5,000. Reports of side effects were up to 30 times higher with Gardasil.

The vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck, the FDA and the CDC question the value of the new analysis. They say they continue to review the data, maintain that Gardasil is safe and effective, and claim that its benefits outweigh the risks.

The CDC says on its website that as of December 31, 2008, more than 23 million doses of Gardasil were distributed in the United States. There were 11,916 reports of adverse events following Gardasil vaccination in the United States. Of these reports, 94% were reports of events considered to be non-serious, and 6% were reports of events considered to be serious.

The CDC concludes, “Based on all of the information we have today, CDC continues to recommend Gardasil vaccination for the prevention of 4 types of HPV. As with all approved vaccines, CDC and FDA will continue to closely monitor the safety of Gardasil. Any problems detected with this vaccine will be reported to health officials, healthcare providers, and the public, and needed action will be taken to ensure the public’s health and safety.”

What is your position on the HPV vaccine?

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6 Responses

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  1. I think you mean cervical cancer is rare in the US? Because HPV is not rare anywhere.

    From the CDC “At least 50% of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. ”

    The disease is not rare. It’s 1 out of 2. Those are staggering odds in any bet. My wife has cervical cancer and I cant’ believe more people don’t know about HPV. We didn’t until she got sick! Every girl needs to be screened regularly once they start having sex. Early detection is the key to beating it. But cervical cancer isn’t the only threat from HPV, there are also other forms of cancer it can cause, including men! The test for men is practically non-existent.

    Great article, I just wanted to stress how prevalent HPV is.

  2. Take a few minutes and watch this important video on the potential dangers –and limited benefits–of the Gardasil vaccine and consider sharing it with others. More than thirty two girls have already died, yet some are still pushing for mandatory vaccinations.

    Urgent Warning About Gardasil

    Please share this with anyone you know who may be considering the vaccine for their daughters or themselves.

    Thank you so much!

  3. Vered said

    @ chrispian: Thank you for sharing your own story with us. I’m very sorry about the ordeal your wife and you are going through. I wish your wife a full recovery.

    Yes, according to the statistics I found, cervical cancer is rare in the United States, thanks to regular screening.

    The question is, assuming regular screening for cancer is performed, is the risk in getting the vaccine worth the benefits, and since it’s so new, do we know enough about the risks?

    @ Concerned: Thank you for joining the discussion. I’m off to watch the video.

  4. @vared - My argument isn’t for or against the vaccine. I don’t know enough about it and vaccines need more study, period. When I talk to people about our story I just try to tress how common the RISK of HPV is and to encourage regular screening. Cervical Cancer is still a top killer of women so regular screenings is vital to avoiding cancer, as you said. I think we need to raise awareness about HPV because we didn’t even know about it. Again, I’m not promoting the vaccine, I know very little about that, just that HPV awareness could save lives.

  5. Vered said

    @ chrispian: I agree about awareness. As a mom, I’m in a very tough spot b/c this vaccine is potentially life-saving yet has its own risks and is so new that we simply don’t have enough data yet. Thank you gain for your insights.

  6. Hello said

    I worry about any vaccine or medication with an ad campaign based on fear. Merck’s “One Less Campaign” seems to be saying “If you don’t get your daughter this vaccine she’ll get cervical cancer and it’ll be all your fault.” Guilting parents into getting the vaccine seems like a very suspicious strategy, allowing them to circumvent the actual research. Merck’s research is shoddy at best and obviously biased. Like Chrispian said, HPV awareness was relatively low before the vaccine emerged. Why? Because HPV is the only “factor” that Merck has a vaccine for. Cervical cancer is a major threat because Merck made it one.

    When I went to my gynecologist several years ago he assured me that there were no adverse side effects and that HPV caused all cervical cancer (”facts” which we now know aren’t true). The nurse at the pediatrician’s office squared off with me for five minutes when I refused the vaccine. Judging by their reactions when I declined, few people had questioned the necessity and side effects of the vaccine. We need to really dig through the data. Ten years down the road I won’t be giving my kids this vaccine, crossing the road poses a greater danger than HPV. This ridiculously expensive vaccine needs to be sent to countries where it’ll actually do some good, especially in societies in which women are not allowed or expected to regularly see a gynecologist or have a pap smear done.

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