At first, it seems surprising that a vaccination is central to recent presidential “debates” until one realizes how potently this important public health issue illustrates the erosion of public trust in authority.
Rick Perry took significant campaign donations from Merck & Co, the manufacturer of the HPV vaccines, and then signed an executive order to mandate the HPV vaccine in Texas. In an attempt to discredit Perry, Michelle Bachmann claimed that a girl was made retarded by the HPV vaccine. She has been ridiculed for making this statement, and while it may be the wrong argument, it is correct information.
In February 2007, Governor Rick Perry bowed to the lobbying pressure of Merck and attempted to mandate Gardasil for all middle-school-aged girls in Texas. Merck donated $16,000 to Perry’s campaign in the two and a half years prior to his signing the executive order to do so. Michael Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff, was one of Merck’s top lobbyist at the time Perry signed the executive order. The HPV vaccine costs between $360 and $390 for the three shot series and would have cost the state of Texas $50 million in the first year alone.
At the time, Merck hoped to generate as much as $3 billion in annual sales from Gardasil. According to Forbes, the vaccine is a disappointment to Wall Street analysts, who expected it to generate from $2 billion to $4 billion in yearly sales. It generates $1 billion annually in sales.
Medical evidence points to the need for caution in regard to Gardasil. An article in the February 28 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that while HPV infection is common among US females 20 to 24 (44.8 percent are infected), only 24.5 percent of girls 14 to 19 are infected.
In April 2010, the Indian Council of Medical Research suspended the cervical cancer control vaccination program for girls in India after four deaths and more than 120 complications were reported by young women who had received the Gardasil vaccine.
Cervical cancer is the fifth cause of death among women in developed countries with a rate of three cases per 100,000 women, and is still epidemic in developing countries. Seventy percent of HPV infections resolve within one year; 90 percent resolve within two years. Only 10 percent of infections will persist and 50 percent of these will be cancer precursors.
Mass screening programs for HPV infection have had dramatic effects. When 70 percent of women in a society participate in mass screening the rate of cervical cancer drops. Finland saw a 75 percent drop in cervical cancer when women participated in mass screening. Of those who get cervical cancer, 50 percent never got a pap smear.
According to Diane Harper, MD, MPH, MS., the leading international expert on HPV vaccines and developer of Gardasil and Cervarix, the vaccines are highly effective against most types of HPV viruses, but not all of them. Coverage requires three doses of the vaccine and is expensive. No efficacy trials in girls younger than fifteen years of age have been done and the duration of efficacy is unknown for all recipients.
Screening is still essential and screening alone is as effective as screening with vaccines in preventing HPV infection, according to Harper. On the package inserts, Gardisal publishes efficacy of five years and Cervarix publishes 7.5 years. “If HPV vaccines are not effective for at least 15 years, then no cervical cancer is prevented, only postponed,” says Harper.
In general, the vaccine has proven safe for most women, but results from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) indicate that 29 percent of vaccine recipients feel dizzy and faint. More than 18,000 reports of adverse events associated with the HPV vaccine have been made since 2006 including 72 cases of death. The risk of adverse events associated with the HPV vaccine is 7 events per 100,000 vaccinated, while the risk of cervical cancer in the developed world is 3 cases per 100,000 women.
CBS covered the story of Gabby Swank, who became very ill after receiving the HPV vaccine. This is probably the girl Bachmann was referring to as she became increasingly mentally confused before she died. Other families of children damaged from Gardasil also tell their stories. Art Caplan’s claim that there are no side effects to the HPV vaccine is arrogant in its ignorance and cruel in its dismissal of the real suffering of many families. I hope he will give the $10,000 to Gabby’s mom, Shannon.
A 2009 study in Pediatrics found that a majority of parents are concerned about adverse events of vaccine. 99 percent of respondents to an online survey agreed with the statement, “Getting vaccines is a good way to protect my children from disease.” However, 54 percent agreed with “I am concerned about serious adverse events of vaccines.” 11.5 percent had refused at least one vaccine recommended by their doctor.
Congress has acknowledged that vaccines can have adverse events. Occasionally, a vaccine is even recalled. In 1986, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) to protect the vaccine supply by reducing the liability of the vaccine manufacturers and to respond to public health concerns. The NCVIA requires all health care providers to report certain adverse events following vaccination to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). According to the CDC, in 2008, more than 25,000 reports of adverse events in the US were received by VAERS. The NCVIA also created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) to compensate those injured by vaccines on a “no fault” basis.
When medical experts such as Mr. Caplan categorically deny the existence of something that parents know exists, experience themselves and are concerned about, it just further erodes parent confidence in the vaccine program. If you would like to research adverse events of HPV yourself, you can go directly to VAERS, or ask Stephen Rubin, PhD a question on our discussion forums. And, many other Gardasil and HPV resources are available on Mothering.