Facts and Fallacies about the HPV Vaccine

The HPV Vaccine, which guards against Human Papilloma Virus, has been available since June, 2006.

Few side effects have been reported;  in fact, according to VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) nearly all reactions to the HPV vaccine have been very mild, compared to other vaccines, such as MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) and DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus).

Vaccine reactions are typically a low fever or mild pain at the injection site although there remains much controversy about the vaccine’s safety and scare tactics abound. Even vaccines which cause higher incidence of serious reaction than the HPV vaccine are still exponentially safer than the diseases they prevent.C for C blog Aug 2014

HPV is a common but potentially serious group of viruses, of which more than 100 strains exist.  Most men and women, by the time they reach adulthood, have been exposed to this virus.  In 90% of the cases, our immune system clears the virus within two years.

About 30% of the strains are sexually transmitted.  Of these, a few are considered ‘high-risk’.  They may cause abnormal Pap tests and can lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis or anus.  Others, called ‘low-risk’ strains may result in genital warts or even cause Pap test abnormalities.

Cervical cancer is the most serious complication of the HPV virus.  Nearly 4,000 women in the United States die annually from this disease – worldwide, the numbers are a staggering 270,000.

So why does the controversy still exist over a vaccine which has been proven to prevent the HPV virus?

According to a Reuter’s article, the scare over the vaccine was fueled, in large part, by Michele Bachmann during her run for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination.   One of Bachmann’s rivals, Texas Governor Rick Perry, had mandated the vaccine as part of the Texas state school vaccination program in 2007 (It was subsequently overturned.) In a 2011 debate, Bachmann seized upon an opportunity to make her rival look bad, saying he ‘forced innocent little girls to have a government injection that was potentially dangerous”. The next day, while on the Today show, Bachmann added fuel to the fire by claiming she knew of a woman whose daughter had become ‘mentally retarded’ after receiving the vaccine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics tried to quell the controversy caused by Bachmann’s unsubstantiated and self-serving remarks by issuing a statement which contained actual facts, backed by scientific research, which showed the vaccine to be safe.

In fact, so incredulous were some of the country’s top Bioethicists, that two offered rewards if Bachmann could produce proof that even one person suffered such a reaction.  (One of the rewards was in excess of $10,000.) They offered to donate the rewards to Bachmann’s favorite charity and invited her to ‘put her money where her mouth was’ by donating to their charity of choice should she fail to produce a victim.

Bachmann’s campaign never replied.  She never collected the reward, as she remained silent, apparently unable to find anyone with a reaction worse than a sore arm or mild headache.

As is typical, however, outlandish claims by dramatic and power-inebriated political candidates seem to get more air time than scientists talking about real facts.  Possibly this is because scientists tend to behave in a calmer, more self-restrained style, which is good for science but bad for television.

Because of the dramatic accusation made by a political candidate (whose career was in law – not science), internet scare stories have proliferated in spite of a profound lack of substantive evidence. C for C Teen iStock_000016793985XSmall

A survey done by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that 85% of parents planned to have their child vaccinated.   Twelve percent were ‘undecided’, and cited claims made on the internet as the reason for their fear.  Three percent were adamant they would not vaccinate under any circumstances, apparently fearful their offspring might not be able to comprehend a fact-deficient political debate in the future.

It’s clear that science and facts are winning the battle, but there remains much to be accomplished to educate parents of girls in middle school about the benefits of HPV prevention.  Citizens for Choice supports this education, as they support all education for men and women alike to foster reproductive health.

2 thoughts on “Facts and Fallacies about the HPV Vaccine

  1. Serious adverse events from HPV vaccine are considerably more than all other vaccines. Do research and make an informed choice.
    From the FDA: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/ApprovedProducts/UCM111263.pdf
    6.2 Postmarketing Experience
    THE FOLLOWING ADVERSE EVENTS HAVE BEEN SPONTANEOUSLY REPORTED DURING POST-APPROVAL USE OF GARDASIL. Because these events were reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is not possible to reliably estimate their frequency or to establish a causal relationship to vaccine exposure.
    Blood and lymphatic system disorders: Autoimmune hemolytic anemia, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, lymphadenopathy. Respiratory, thoracic and mediastinal disorders: Pulmonary embolus. Gastrointestinal disorders: Nausea, pancreatitis, vomiting. General disorders and administration site conditions: Asthenia, chills, DEATH, fatigue, malaise. Immune system disorders: Autoimmune diseases, hypersensitivity reactions including anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reactions, bronchospasm, and urticaria. Musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders: Arthralgia, myalgia. Nervous system disorders: Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, dizziness, Guillain-Barré syndrome, headache, motor neuron disease, paralysis, seizures, syncope (including syncope associated with tonic-clonic movements and other seizure-like activity) sometimes resulting in falling with injury, transverse myelitis. Infections and infestations: cellulitis. Vascular disorders: Deep venous thrombosis.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Stephen. An important thing to remember is that these events were reported spontaneously and the reports not verified. In other words, the FDA had to take people’s word for it that the events occurred. Here is a follow-up commentary from the Center for Disease Control:

      Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD)
      In 2011, the CDC studied the occurrence of specific adverse events following more than 600,000 doses of Gardasil. Adverse events in the HPV vaccinated population were compared to another appropriate population (such as adolescents vaccinated with vaccines other than HPV) and included Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), stroke, venous thromboembolism (VTE), appendicitis, seizures, syncope (fainting), and allergic reactions. None of these adverse events were found to be any more common after HPV vaccination than among their comparison groupsExternal Web Site Icon. Anaphylaxis, a very severe allergic reaction, was also included in this study. One confirmed case of anaphylaxis was identified out of 600,558 doses studied, a rate similar to what has been previously published for anaphylaxis following all childhood vaccines.

      What is known is that the diseases these vaccines prevent are serious and often fatal. There are risks with every medication and every vaccine. We hope that parents educate themselves with factual, verifiable scientific information and make their own, informed decision.

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