Is Gardasil Safe?

Is Gardasil safe?

Gardasil is a somewhat controversial vaccine. Gardasil promises to protect girls and young women from cervical cancer. Why is this drug considered controversial? Because Gardasil doesn’t actually protect against “cervical cancer” — rather, it is a vaccination against the most common types of Human papilloma virus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, by some reports the most common STD in America, that can cause many symptoms, the deadliest of which is cervical cancer.

You can see where this is going. Many people suggest that an education in abstinence (and the practice of abstinence itself) is the best way to protect young women from the dangers of HPV and cervical cancer. Still others (like myself) remember what it was like to be a teenager, a time when even the most steadfast of convictions was easy to overlook in the moment.

Regardless of how you feel morally about Gardasil, you have to admit that a vaccine that could prevent certain forms of cancer is a good thing. And we got even better news about Gardasil today.

A government report released today suggests that Gardasil has a record of safety in line or better than other vaccines already in wide public use. As with any drug, some serious complications and side effects have occurred from Gardasil (including at least 20 deaths and two cases of Lou Gehrig’s disease) but the evidence suggests that none of these incidents were directly related to use of the vaccine. In fact, the most common complications after a woman receives a vaccination with Gardasil are fainting episodes. There is some suggestion that Gardasil leads to an increased risk for blood clots, but the study released today suggests that these incidents are related more to the use of oral contraceptives and a high level of obesity in teen girls.

Seven million girls and young women have been given Gardasil since it was approved, making it difficult to prove that health effects in this population were caused by the vaccine itself.

Dr. Barbara A. Slade, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and one of the authors of the study, had this to say: “We feel confident recommending people get the vaccine; the benefits still outweigh the risks. This is the most complete picture we have.”

The Gardasil vaccine was approved for girls and young women ages 9 to 26 and is now recommended as part of a vaccination routine for girls aged 11 and 12.

The study on the adverse effects of Gardasil analyzed nearly 13,000 reports of side effects that occurred after immunization with the HPV vaccine between June 1, 2006 and December 31, 2008. During this period, more than 23 million doses of vaccine were distributed to doctors and clinics. Sounds like a big number of vaccinations until you realize that Gardasil requires three doses over time. Final tally — over 7 million girls have been vaccinated.

The new government report says that there are an average of 53 adverse sid effect events for every 100,000 doses of vaccine distributed. Fainting occurred most frequently, though doctors are not entirely sure why 8 girls out of 100,000 that were vaccinated have been fainting. Probably it has something to do with the second most common side effect from Gardasil — dizziness. 7.5 per 100,000 girls reported dizziness after receiving the vaccine.

To determine that Gardasil is safe, reports of side effects were compared with the same reports from the use of other vaccines given to similar populations of girls around the same age. Out of the total number of reports, just 6.2 percent, or 772 total reports, were considered ‘serious events” by the CDC, including 32 reports of death after vaccination, though only 20 of the deaths could be verified. Of the 20 verified deaths, 14 of the deceased had only received the HPV vaccine, while others had received multiple vaccines. The average age of the girls who died was 18 — a high number considering the age the vaccine is normally started at. The causes of death in these cases varied widely. Two were due to diabetic conditions, one case related to prescription drug abuse, a case of meningitis, one case of juvenile Lou Gehrig’s disease, three severe pulmonary embolisms, six cardiac incidents, and two deaths related to pre existing seizure disorders.

The widely different causes of death make it difficult for anyone to determine if Gardasil is the underlying cause, or even if the vaccine played a role at all.