Safety of Vaccine for Young Girls Questioned

August 20, 2009

By Angie Moreschi:

What’s a parent to do? All you want is to protect your children. So, you listen to the experts about how this new vaccine, Gardasil, will protect your daughter against cervical cancer. You watch all the glitzy commercials saying it’s the thing to do.  And now this. Click here to watch the video and learn more.

Mothers and fathers  who’ve struggled with whether to have their daughters vaccinated with the new cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil are getting a dose of caution. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association raises questions about the drug’s safety. The vaccine has been linked to 32 deaths, although not confirmed as the official cause.  It’s been approved for girls and young women ages 9 to 26 and has been given to more than seven million nationwide.

Risk v. Benefit

JAMA takes a look at the risks and benefits of the vaccine, which is touted to protect against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and is the major cause of cervical cancer, which kills about 250,000 women worldwide each year.

The study reports the most common and serious complications after receiving the vaccine were fainting spells, neurological problems and increased risk for potentially fatal blood clots. It also questions whether any risk is acceptable when giving the vaccine to perfectly healthy girls for a disease that can be prevented through screening.

This comes after an all out push to rush this vaccine to market.  The Centers for Disease Control has recommended the vaccine for girls starting at age 11, and Merck, the maker of the vaccine, has rolled out a sophisticated public relations campaign with TV commercials and magazine ads to promote the vaccine.

Is it worth it?

With serious safety concerns still in question, it seems irresponsible to push this vaccine on young children. Consider especially that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, so if a young woman is not sexually active, she is not at risk.  That means suggesting girls as young as age 9 get the vaccine is absurd. There’s always the exception, but there aren’t too many 9 years olds having sex, even in this day and age.

ABC News reported on the controversy (watch the video above) and ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Timothy Johnson said he would encourage parents to learn more about the shot before getting their daughters vaccinated.

The Gardasil vaccine requires a series of three shots within 18-months.  No doubt, most frustrated and most confused right now are those parents whose daughters have gotten one or two doses.  Now what do you do?

You can take small comfort in the fact that the study also says the vaccine’s safety record appears to be in line with that of other vaccines. Of course, that comfort goes out the window if your daughter has a problem.

This is truly a cautionary tale for society to slow down before rushing drugs to market, without thorough safety evaluations.