Despite outcry from parents of girls who have received the HPV vaccine Gardasil, and criticism about the vaccine’s effectiveness from one of its own creators, this month the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed its use for boys. This follows a similar recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Critics of the vaccine, which has been linked to thousands of complaints of serious adverse side effects, are left to wonder why their voices are not being heard.
When it was introduced by manufacturer Merck, Inc., in 2006, Gardasil was marketed as a preventative treatment for cervical cancer. A glitzy ad campaign urged parents to vaccinate their daughters, to ensure that “One Less” girl would die of cervical cancer.
But what followed were mounting reports to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). To date, there have been more than 20,000 reports of serious side effects that developed after patients received one or more of the three scheduled doses of the vaccine. These include blood clots, paralysis, seizures, Bells Palsy, Guillain-Barre Syndrome and pancreatitis.
Additionally, VAERS has collected information about 71 deaths among young people following HPV vaccinations, including three boys, as of September 15, 2011.
So far, physicians, health organizations like the CDC and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and of course the drug’s maker, Merck, insist that none of these reported side effects or deaths can be conclusively proven to be the result of the vaccine. A recent Merck-funded study insists clinical tests on patients who have received the vaccine demonstrate side effects no more serious than rashes, injection site swelling or fainting.
But at the heart of the matter is an even more important – and largely overlooked – question: does Gardasil do what it promises? Does it really prevent cancer?
According to Dr. Diane Harper, Professor and Vice-Chair of Research at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, specializing in Community and Family Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Bioinformatics and Personalized Medicine, who worked on the team that developed Gardasil, “duration of efficacy is the key to the entire question.”
She tells the Huffington Post that while Gardasil does offer some protection to sexually active women from four specific types of HPV, there is no evidence the drug’s protections last longer than five years. This means if a child as young as 9 receives the vaccine – as “recommended” – generally when that child reaches an age where he or she may be sexually active, the vaccine’s protection will have run out.
While she emphasizes that choosing whether or not to receive a vaccine or to allow your child to be vaccinated is a personal one, she urges those considering the HPV vaccine to weigh the pros and cons very carefully. She said she feels the “One Less” marketing campaign was designed to scare more people into choosing the vaccine.
“Yes, the marketing campaign was designed to incite the greatest fear possible in parents, so that there would be uptake of the vaccine,” she tells the Huffington Post. “If parents and girls were told the benefits and harms of Pap screening and HPV vaccines … an informed and valued decision would have been able to be made. Many may have chosen to continue with a lifetime of Pap screening and forgo the vaccines, with the unknowns of duration of efficacy and safety unable to be answered for many more years.”
Fundamentally, Harper says, “Gardasil is not really a cervical cancer vaccine. The vaccine prevents HPV infection. Not the development of cervical cancer.”
So, yes, the HPV vaccine could prevent young men – within a five-year window of effectiveness – from developing HPV-related infections. But at what risk? And then what?