Dear Surly Amy,
My sister wonders if she should get her daughters the Gardasil vaccine. My instinct is that she should, though I am also hesitant to recommend or take drugs that have not been around for very long. Would you know of any reputable sources that would allow my sister to make an informed choice about risk of new vaccine vs. risk of her daughters’ contracting HPV/cervical cancer? She’s a very rational person, but of course the safety of her daughters is so central to her that she is bound to be influenced by pure anxious emotion, as would I in a similar situation.
If I had a daughter I would definitely get her the Gardasil vaccine. I would get it for my son too. The Human Papillomavirus virus has been definitely linked with cervical cancer. Of the 11,000 people diagnosed with cervical cancer, the cancer kills approximately 4,000 women every year. And that is a mostly preventable risk? Sign me up.
According to the Center For Disease Control, as of September 15th, 2011 40 million doses of Gardasil® were given out. Out of that 40 million there were 20,096 reports of adverse events. Of those adverse events 92% were considered to be non-serious. Non serious defined as:
Of the adverse events reports following Gardasil® vaccination were mild and included, pain and swelling at the injection site (the arm), fever, dizziness, nausea, and fainting. Syncope (fainting) is common after injections and vaccinations, especially in adolescents.
Of the reported adverse effects only 8% were considered serious. Serious defined as:
Any VAERS report that indicated hospitalization, permanent disability, life-threatening illness, congenital anomaly or death is classified as serious. As with all VAERS reports, serious events may or may not have been caused by the vaccine.
It should be noted here that Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting data can not be used to prove a causal association with the vaccine. The reports are taken anytime after a vaccine has been administered so many other causes and factors could be at play. For example, if a blood clot is reported after a vaccine it could be caused by an underlying illness and not the vaccine itself.
Correlation, as they say, does not equal causation.
That being said, I am not here to imply that vaccines are 100% safe. 1-2 out of every 100,000 people in their teens are affected with Guillain-Barré Syndrome after a vaccine. Things such as allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients and blood clots can occur. However, that is a really minimal risk when compared with the yearly diagnosis and deaths from cervical cancer, that can now be mostly prevented with the HPV vaccine.
More info on health concern reporting in relation to the HPV vaccine can be found here on the CDC website.
Info on the Human Papillomavirus can be found here.
And frequently asked questions about HPV can be found here.
Here is another link on HPV from the Mayo Clinic website.
As always, I am not a doctor and you should seek out medical advice from a professional health care provider.
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