The HPV vaccine is a product developed by Merck under the brand name Gardasil, and it protects against a few strains of a sexually transmitted disease. Specifically, this vaccine protects against types 6, 11, 16 and 18 of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted only by sexual contact with a partner.
Only about 3% of women are infected in their lifetime by these four types of HPV (Types 6, 11, 16, 18) targeted by the vaccine.
There have been 3,461 adverse reactions, including eleven deaths, reportedly due to the HPV vaccine since the FDA approval in June 2006.
The HPV vaccine does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., chlamydia, herpes, hepatitis, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, AIDS, etc.), and the vaccine is not recommended for use in pregnant women or girls.
The HPV vaccine is being promoted as protection against cervical cancer, but Merck itself does not ensure protection in its package insert. Rather, this claim is based on research showing that 70% of cervical cancer cases also have prevalence of these four strains of HPV, but correlation is not necessarily causation. Cervical cancer has already been quickly declining in the United States without the vaccine.
The FDA approved this HPV vaccine without reviewing any epidemiological studies, and after monitoring for only a brief period elevated antibody levels in recipients of the vaccine. No tests were done, for example, to see if the vaccine causes cancer or birth defects in rats, though such tests would be easy for the FDA to require, if it weren't for the possibility that it might cause disapproval of the vaccine.
The long-term consequences of the HPV vaccine are not known. Children in the 9-year-old age group have been monitored for only 18 months, and there have been no studies of possible longer-term risks of the vaccine, such as infertility or cancer.
Merck sells Gardasil for $360 ($120 per shot in a three-shot series). Adding administrative costs, the overall cost to the public is $400-500 per child vaccinated. Doing the math, the cost of vaccinating 100 children will be at least $40,000, but only 3 out of that 100 will ever be exposed to the HPV types targeted by the vaccine.
The average age of diagnosis of cervical cancer is 48 years old. Accordingly, the effective cost is $13,000 per child to possibly protect her against a cancer over 30 years in the future. But the vaccine is not known to be effective for more than five years; most new vaccines are not effective any longer than that.
A 100% effective means of protection against the same disease is freely available, and it is abstinence. Moreover, pap smears are an inexpensive and easy way to detect, manage and treat cervical cancer without allowing it to become fatal.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the Texas Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have not supported making this vaccine mandatory.
Dr. Jon Abramson, a member of the CDC's advisory committee on immunization practices, said to the Washington Times that "I told Merck my personal opinion that it shouldn't be mandated. And they heard it from other committee members."
In addition to the above referenced injuries and deaths, many girls who receive the HPV vaccine say that it is the most painful of all injections they get, and that the vaccine itself burns, unlike the "other shots [that] tend to hurt only at the moment of the needle stick, and not after the vaccine plunges in." Many girls have been known to pass out from the pain.
Parents can best decide whether to give this unproven vaccine to their own children, most of whom are never likely to benefit from it.
- This was confirmed by a study published February 28, 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA 297(8):813-819, February 28, 2007.