No Love For HPV Vaccines

Gardasil, first approved by the FDA in 2006, “is a recombinant vaccine indicated for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) in girls and women nine through 26 years of age.”

It was approved in 2009 for boys of the same age to prevent HPV types 6 and 11, and to combat the onset of genital warts.

I got the vaccine when I was 13 and so did several of my friends. The side effects were mild–just three shots delivered once a month that would leave my arm aching for a few days and not much else. Although I didn’t understand why the vaccine was important, or what it protected me against, my mom insisted that I get it.

In later years, once I started seeing a gynecologist, she told me, “We don’t even test for HPV once you’ve had the Gardasil shot; we just assume everyone has it under 25.” She is right– over 50 percent of sexually active men and women will be diagnosed with HPV in their lifetime, with some statistics stating much higher numbers.

HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, which is the fourth most common cancer in women. In 2012, over half a million women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, most of the cases occurring in third world countries.

In the United States, approximately 10,000 women will be diagnosed yearly and 3,700 people will die from cervical cancer. These numbers become particularly staggering when we realize how preventative cervical cancer is.

The Gardasil vaccine rapidly became one of the most common vaccines due to marketing, lobbying, and medical need. Many argue that women can keep just as vigilant about developing cervical cancer by receiving yearly pap-smears in combination with the HPV test, which can detect abnormal cells in the cervix.

These cells and their growth, if detected, are typically monitored with slightly more frequent pap’s (every six months). So some say: why get the shot at all?

Truly, there is no substitute for the vaccine. The Gardasil shot protects against four strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer. That’s not a hundred percent, but it’s a whopping number. The vaccine, coupled with yearly visits to the doctor and safe sex practices, should keep you as safe as possible. No booster vaccine is required, although research is still undetermined and the shot is not a complete replacement for regular trips to the doctor.

For parents who are unsure of whether or not they should administer the vaccine to their kids: why not? While it’s not a one-stop-shop for eliminating cervical cancer in women, it is ultimately helpful, considering that almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV.

Like all vaccines, Gardasil has received heavy backlash by parents–particularly those who felt forced to give their child the vaccine through doctor recommendation, only to discover their child “became a different person.”

Those who have adverse reactions to the vaccine experience fatigue that cannot be alleviated by sleeping, aches, intense migraines, and inability to focus. For many parents this is a shocking development, as they remember their once energetic and happy children.

One mother recounts that after her daughter received the first dose of Gardasil she began sleeping a lot–sometimes over 12 hours a day and even more on the weekends. “It would allow her to gather enough energy to go to school a few days before she crashed again,” she explained.

For a 13 year-old girl, such an experience must be terrifying. After going through a slew of doctors who denied that her symptoms were related to Lyme disease or the vaccine, they finally found a doctor who gave her another test for Bartonella Henselae. The diagnosis provided almost no relief. She still remains chronically sick at 14 years-old, and her parents believe that Gardasil triggered the latent tick-borne disease.

Indeed, the reactions to Gardasil are varied. In July of 2008, it was reported that 18 young girls had died after receiving the vaccine only two years after it was approved by the FDA. Other reactions have even included paralysis.

These cases are very, very rare. Since its approval by the FDA, Gardasil has been given to 60 million people (as of March 2014).

Additionally, in 2015, Forbes released an article recounting the most “comprehensive study of Gardasil to date.” The study stated that Gardasil was one of the safest vaccines and had very little to say about the adverse effects on people who received the vaccine. The study also admitted that “the vaccine is too new to show in clinical trials that its use successfully reduces cancer incidence,” but that research fully expects it to cause a significant reduction.

In the cases of adverse side effects, they found absolutely no link between the so-called “side-effects” of the vaccine and the reported cases that included blood clots, autoimmune diseases, neurological disorders, and multiple sclerosis. In fact, all of the women who suffered blood clots were also using birth control, smoking, were obese, or had a pre-existing blood clotting disorder.

With the amount of research behind the vaccine, and the overwhelming claims of painful and life-changing side effects experienced by parents and young women alike, many parents are unsure of whether or not to proceed with the vaccine. Statistically, incidences of serious side effects are very low, and rarely life threatening. Some say the vaccine is not worth the risk for something as far away and unforeseeable as developing cervical cancer. Others say it is part of a full-throated preventative measure that, in conjunction with adequate female healthcare and yearly exams, can significantly lower the risk of developing an entirely preventable cancer.

It’s for the individual to decide whether or not Gardasil is right for them.

Feature photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.