HPV vaccine: a Christian parent has concerns (part 2)
© Dr. Michael D. Jacobson, D.O. Do not reproduce this article without permission.
To summarize the major points from Part 1 of this series:
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in America. It has infected 79 million and strikes up to 14 million people annually.
- Over 90 percent of HPV infections are eliminated by a healthy immune system.
- However, for those who do not eliminate it, many have no symptoms and may carry the infection for years before discovering it.
- Certain strains are known to cause genital warts, cancer and other ailments.
- Since cervical cancer is silent in its early stages, routine Papanicolaou (“Pap”) smears are recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65 and have cut the incidence of cervical cancer by about 75 percent.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first HPV vaccine. Gardasil® (HPV4), a Merck & Co. product, targeted four types of HPV. Eventually Gardasil 9® (HPV9) became the only currently approved HPV vaccine in the USA and raised the cervical cancer protection rate to over 90 percent because it added protection against other strains (31, 33, 45, 52 and 58) in addition to two strains that cause 90 percent of genital warts (types 6 and 11). (Note: While GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix® (HPV2) has been around since 2009, it is principally used overseas in cervical cancer reduction campaigns since it only targets HPV types 16 and 18).
The official word is that this is a safe vaccine. But what about the risks? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims that all three vaccines are safe. The fact that an estimated 300 million men and women have received these vaccines seems to make that claim reasonable. All three vaccines contain no viral RNA or DNA. Instead, they use a protein from the shell of certain HPV types. This is probably why the side effects are mild and the list is relatively short: irritation at the injection site, dizziness, fainting, nausea and headache.
A 2014 review article stated that, during the first eight years of the vaccines’ use, 67 million doses administered resulted in about 25,000 reports of adverse reactions, the vast majority of which were minor. In a review of the reactions considered serious (6 percent of the total), 32 deaths were reported. However, upon closer examination, none of the deaths appeared to actually be caused by the vaccine. The study suggested that people with a propensity toward developing blood clots may have higher risk when using HPV vaccines. Additionally, two cases of an illness akin to Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS) were reported during the study.
Others have concerns
However, citizen advocacy groups, such as the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) cite higher rates and additional concerns. For example, an April 30, 2018 MedAlerts query of the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) contains more than 58,992 reports of HPV vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths. The reports also include 430 related deaths, 794 hospitalizations and 2,773 disabling conditions. Over 45 percent of the reported serious adverse events occurred in children and teens 12-17 years of age.*
The Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education (PROVE)’s website contained an insightful article by a Texas OB-GYN physician who questioned the value of the HPV vaccine. He raised several concerns regarding its safety and efficacy (see Clayton Young reference*):
- At the time of Young’s article, cervical cancer reduction with HPV vaccines had only been tracked for four years. Thus, his argument is that, since it typically takes up to 12 years for “high grade disease,” Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN II or III), to progress to actual cervical cancer, claiming that the vaccine reduced cervical cancer was premature and “ludicrous.”
- Forty percent of women who have CIN II or III will clear it themselves, especially if contracted when younger. Vaccinating children might only postpone their infection until a later age when they are less likely to clear it themselves and the infection might be more severe.
- The vaccine studies did not involve children. There is no concrete evidence that vaccinating young children will result in sustainable levels of antibodies that protect against disease well into adulthood.
- Virtually all of the initial data supporting the approval of the first HPV vaccine came from worldwide studies and not data from “developed” nations, such as the United States. Therefore, the place where these vaccines have the best evidence of possibly being useful are nations in which comprehensive cervical cancer screening is not readily available, not here.
- He concluded that the current practice of cervical cancer surveillance [presumably he is referring to routine Pap smears and concurrent HPV testing] is very effective in detecting cervical cancer in its pre-cancerous stage, and thus at a time when it is easily treatable. The unknown risks of HPV vaccine are unnecessary.
*(References mentioned above to be provided at the conclusion of the series.)