The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the enthusiasm over the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine appears to be waning. While 53 percent of 13-to-17-year-old girls received the vaccine in 2011, only 33 percent of young women received the three doses in the series by 2012. The CDC would like to see that rate increase to 80 percent.
The CDC immunization services division keeps track of the numbers and reports on the latest in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. HPV can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, penile cancer in men and some oropharyngeal cancers among men and women, reports the CDC.
The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is made by Merck and was approved in 2006. According to CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, it works well. Four years after the drug was approved he cites a large drop in HPV infection rates among girls age 14-to-19. Dr. Frieden seems to be a cheerleader for the vaccine in this report even suggesting that doctors have been and should be promoting increased use of the vaccine.
However public health requires looking at all of the reports coming in after a vaccine has been on the market for awhile and all of the reports about the HPV vaccine do not justify such a glowing recommendation.
A report out of the University of British Columbia last year questioned whether the risk for adverse reactions was acceptable considering the efficacy of the HPV vaccines.
According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) there were 46 million doses of Gardasil distributed and 21,194 adverse events or complications such as dizziness, headache, fatigue, vomiting and weakness. The group, Judicial Watch, tallied up the adverse events and included 28 deaths related to the use of Gardasil in 2008, up from 19 deaths in 2007. The group petitioned the FDA to obtain its data and found 1,000 serious complications in 2008 including nerve damage, seizures, swelling, confusion and symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Despite the controversy, public health officials say the shot is safe and they recommend vaccination of all adolescent girls at age 11 or 12 to protect against two types of the HPV virus which are thought to cause 90 percent of genital warts. Boys are also now included in the recommendation to receive the HPV vaccine.
Estimates are about 80 percent of adults have been exposed to HPV at some time in their life, but the body’s immune system usually clears it up.
Merck was so aggressive in its initial marketing of the drug that it pressured states to mandate the vaccine. Texas Governor Rick Perry wanted to make Gardasil mandatory but that move was overridden by the state legislature. Virginia and Washington D.C. today require the vaccine before kids can enroll in public school.
Our tax dollars help pay for the expensive shots ($360) because they are promoted by the CDC through the federal Vaccines for Children program.
About 13 percent of parents surveyed said they were concerned about safety as a reason they choose not to vaccinate. If our public health officials are not going to take into account the serious adverse event reports coming in, then parents should still be the final word as to whether or not their daughters and sons receive the controversial HPV vaccine.