Presidential candidates and media alike have said a great deal recently about the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of misinformation and hyperbole from all sides of the vaccine issue. When conversations about personal healthcare choices—such as vaccinations—turn into debates, people become entrenched on their respective sides, and the facts usually become the first casualty.
For example, when it comes to a discussion of the side effects of the HPV vaccine, either the media have failed to do basic research on the issue or, more seriously, they have purposefully ignored government data. In a recent Associated Press story, a reporter wrote, “Studies have found no serious side effects, with the most common reactions being redness or swelling at the injection site.” A quick glance at the CDC’s website reveals significant side effects from the HPV vaccine. The Center received a total of 18,727 reports of adverse events following Gardasil HPV vaccination, with 1,498 of them (8%) considered “serious”—such as blood clots, the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and 68 reports of death. While the most common reactions might be redness or swelling at the injection site, to omit the existence of serious side effects (including death!) is both sloppy reporting and, from a public health standpoint, downright dangerous.
So one camp dismisses the major side effects out of hand, while the other camp has unfortunately discredited itself with recent off-the-cuff remarks about possible mental retardation following an HPV vaccination—remarks that were given credence only because they were made by a presidential candidate.
A real conversation about the HPV vaccine needs to occur, and the real science about the vaccine’s risks and benefits should be provided to the public—even if media and presidential candidates are unwilling or unable to become leaders in this area.
The recently released Department of Health & Human Services New Vaccine Plan, for example, wants girls to have received three doses of HPV vaccine by age 13 to 15 as means of preventing cervical cancer. This sounds reasonable until you realize of the 100 different types of HPV, only fifteen might someday develop into cancer; moreover, the Journal of the American Medical Association says the relationship between infection with HPV at a young age and later development of cancer is unknown. Of those fifteen potential cancer-causing strains, the vaccine targets only two: HPV-16 and HPV-18. In other words, the vaccine will have no effect on 87% of the HPV viruses that might potentially cause cancer, and the causal link between HPV and cervical cancer is far from definitive.
But is the vaccine even effective? Diane Harper, MD, professor and vice-chair of Research at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Medicine, is the person who knows more about the HPV vaccine than probably anyone else: she was principal investigator for clinical vaccine trials for both Merck, maker of Gardasil, and GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Cervarix. Her research found that that the incidence of cervical cancer in the United States (3.0 per 100,000 women) is actually lower than the incidence of adverse effects from the very vaccine that’s supposed to protect against it (4.3 per 100,000 doses).
Dr. Harper put it this way: “The most important point that I have always said from day one, is that the use of this vaccine must be done with informed consent and complete disclosure of the benefits and harms of Pap screening and HPV vaccines. The decision to be vaccinated must be the woman’s (or parent’s if it is for a young child), and not the physician’s or any board of health, as the vaccination contains personal risk that only the person can value.”
Alliance for Natural Health