In the recent GOP presidential debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry was pummeled for his executive order vaccinating girls against HPV. In explaining his executive order, Perry said he “would always err on the side of life.”
HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is a common sexually transmitted disease and the vaccine is marketed as protection against cervical cancer. Almost 20 million Americans are infected with it. Merck, the makers of Gardasil, the FDA and the CDC recommend that girls as young as 9 years old receive the vaccine.
In 2007, the State Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus had been approached by representatives of Merck, makers of Gardasil, one of two HPV vaccines that were completing clinical trials. Gardasil was described to us as a preventer of HPV infection, cervical cancer and genital warts.
Merck wanted Caucus support because of the high rate of sexual activity among minority adolescents. The vaccine was touted as stopping 75% of HPV infections in girls (later the vaccine was found to stop 90% of genital warts infections in boys).
During my time in the State Assembly, I opposed implementation of a mandatory HPV vaccine policy for girls as young as 11 years old (whether or not they are sexually active) in New York. At the time, I attempted to learn everything I could about HPV and the clinical trials of its vaccines.
In 2009, the Journal of the American Medical Association published two studies and an editorial that gave credence to my concerns. The JAMA editorial addressed the findings of the two studies.
The first report questioned the marketing of the Gardasil vaccine by the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the American College Health Association.  Each of the previously mentioned organizations helped market the vaccine and influenced decisions about the vaccine with presentations, slides, emails, and letters.
The study found that promotion of Gardasil by these groups began in 2006, which was more than a year before the trials.  The startling findings of this study showed that the promotion of Gardasil to young girls began before they knew its potential side effects.
The second study by scientists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration described the adverse effects that were reported for two and one-half years.  While most of the reported adverse side effects of Gardasil were not serious, there were reports of hypersensitivity reactions including severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), Guillain-Barre syndrome (immune system disorders), transverse myelitis (infection of the spinal cord), pancreatitis, and cardiovascular blood clots.
The authors found that while the reported side effects might not be directly related to the vaccine, but they certainly could not be ruled out.
Finally, the editorial highlighted the fact that there are more than 100 different types of HPV and at least 15 of them are cancer causing.  Gardasil only targets 2 strains: HPV-16 and HPV-18.
While there remains little evidence of the relationship between infection at a young age and the development of cancer 20 to 40 years later, researchers found that the virus did not appear to be very harmful because most HPV infections are cleared by the immune system.
The research also found that the net benefit of the HPV vaccine to women is uncertain.  Even if a woman is persistently infected by HPV, the woman most likely will not develop cancer if she is regularly screened.  Ultimately, the true effects of the vaccine may only be determined though long-term follow-up.
Today, the HPV vaccine is recommended for young girls and women, ages 9-29. Gardasil was recently approved for prevention of anal cancers in boys and men, ages 9-29.
Until recently, no other vaccine has been pushed so quickly to be available for women and young girls.  With the publication of these JAMA reports and the increasing number of cases of young girls with extreme side effects, it is important that parents become fully educated on this issue before having their child vaccinated.  The risks are too high to blindly force the vaccine on children.
While the growing rate of infection for HPV is alarming, the methods that our State uses to encourage distribution of this vaccine must be closely monitored.  With so many unanswered questions on the vaccine, it is extremely important that parents remain involved in the decision to have their daughters injected with the Gardasil vaccine.
Are you involved in the health care decisions made about your young daughter or son? If not, don’t you think it’s about time? Let me know what you think by replying to this post today.
To read, “Part 2 – HPV Vaccination – It could have happened in NY,” click here.