You might want to think twice before getting your daughter vaccinated. Sure, the government and many physicians have recommended that girls and young women receive the HPV vaccine. But it may have been plugged prematurely. With over 8,000 (and growing) reports of adverse effects, many are now wondering if the vaccine poses health risks of its own. From nausea to paralysis to death, many parents, physicians and patient advocates are raising the alarm.
Controversial since its debut in June 2006, Merck's HPV vaccine Gardasil has been administered to millions of girls and women worldwide. Recommended for females ages 9 to 26, it is meant to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. Proponents hope that it will prove itself a lifesaver. About 3,500 women die annually from cervical cancer.
I haven't publicly shared my opinions on this vaccine, but I've always felt uneasy about it. Drug companies have proven themselves a bit too eager to roll out their latest product, with the general public ultimately becoming their guinea pigs. I have told people in my personal circle that, if I had a daughter, I would not have her vaccinated. This vaccine is still so new. There's so much we don't know. And there are no guarantees.
While there are over 100 different types of HPV strains, at least 30 of which can cause genital warts, the vaccine only targets four of them. Two of these strains - 6 and 11 - cause approximately 90% of genitals warts. Strains 16 and 18 cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases. As with other new vaccines, it's unclear how long the protection will last at this point.
Another issue at play is the fact that we simply don't know enough about the vaccine, specifically, its long-term effects. Gardasil contains aluminum and nobody knows how that may eventually impact a female's fertility. Furthermore, the vaccine has not been tested as far as how it may interact with other childhood vaccinations.
Finally, with the number of cervical cancer deaths decreasing every year, you have to wonder if Gardasil's benefits outweigh the risks. Medicine is doing really well with Pap smears and other screening tests, which all women should have regardless of vaccination status. Women can still get cervical cancer, even despite the vaccine.
So what are the risks of vaccination?
Parents, health practitioners, and public interest group Judicial Watch are reporting cases of:
o Chronic illness
o Nausea and vomiting
o Fevers, pain, and itching
o Massive wart outbreaks (Gardasil can make HPV symptoms even worse!)
o Muscle weakness and trouble breathing
o Autoimmune disorders, like Guillain-Barré syndrome
o Brain inflammation
o Paralysis and Bell's palsy
o Spontaneous abortion and fetal abnormalities
Of 18 deaths under investigation due to the timing of vaccination, nearly one-quarter cite "blood clots."
Yet Merck, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claim that Gardasil is safe and effective - that there is no direct link to any illnesses reported after vaccinations or deaths. In their view, Gardasil seems safer than most vaccines with its reported serious side effects "half the average." In their view, these potential adverse effects are simply coincidental.
They claim that studies around the world have found no serious side effects so far. If anything, females may experience soreness around the injection site and pass out (which can happen during any type of vaccination). So what's a parent or young woman to do?
As with any vaccine, you need to weigh the pros and cons. You need to solicit expert advice from trusted resources and include your daughter in that conversation. Regardless of what you decide to do, you need to educate yourself and your youth about how HPV is transmitted and what lovers can do to protect themselves from infection. You need to inform your youth of the importance of sexual and reproductive health care, including regular Pap smears. Just don't "sit" as you wait to learn more about HPV vaccines.
The CDC is promising to better scrutinize the data. In the meantime, Merck is facing major lawsuits while trying to convince the FDA to approve Gardasil use for other segments of the population, including your boys.
Follow Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright on Twitter: www.twitter.com/YvonneFulbright