Doctors Come Out in Support of Cervical Cancer Vaccine

Although, at first glance, the numbers are startling, parents may be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Curtis Allen of the CDC says that almost 95 percent of the events are minor reactions, such as sore arms. Of the events reported, only 7 percent have been classified as "serious." To put this in perspective, Allen says that most vaccines have a 10 to 15 percent serious report rate.

The reports have included 10 confirmed cases of a paralytic syndrome called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which is associated with certain types of infections. Half of the cases were in girls who also received the meningitis vaccine Menactra, which has been associated with a slightly increased incidence of the syndrome.

The important fact to note here is that, even in an unvaccinated population, the expected rate of GBS (approximately one to two out of every 100,000 teens) would result in about 40 cases per year. Therefore, the rate we are seeing reported in girls who have been given Gardasil is actually lower than would be expected by pure chance.

Furthermore, reports don't indicate a proven association or cause-and-effect situation. "A report is a good thing," Allen says. "The more reports there are, the more likely we are to determine whether there is a cause and effect from the vaccine."

Twiggs writes, "Unfortunately, the self-reporting of vaccine side effects has lead to a perception that the vaccine is not safe, which is truly incorrect."

Furthermore, many experts such as Dr. James King, head of pediatrics at the University of Maryland, point out that, as any vaccine given to large numbers of individuals, there is a "predictable flurry of associations" and opportunity for coincidental events.

According to Mark Slifka, of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, other undiagnosed infections could have occurred at the about the same time as the girls' vaccinations. For example, he says that there were likely more than 700,000 cases of undiagnosed cases of West Nile virus in 2003 alone.

A coincidental, unrelated infection contracted around the same time as a HPV vaccination could explain cases, he says. He also points to coxsackievirus, another everyday virus that can cause inflammation of the heart and "sudden death" (such as the cases reported in conjunction with Gardasil) in otherwise healthy people.

According to the CDC's Allen, "The bottom line here is that HPV is very pervasive. By the time a woman is 50, there is an 80 percent chance she will have had HPV. The vaccine protects against strains responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer that cause 3,600 deaths a year. It is a safe and effective vaccine."

The FDA concurs, stating that "we continue to think that Gardasil is safe and effective."

According to the CDC's Allen, "The bottom line here is that HPV is very pervasive. By the time a woman is 50, there is an 80 percent chance she will have had HPV. The vaccine protects against strains responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer that cause 3,600 deaths a year. It is a safe and effective vaccine."

The FDA concurs, stating that "we continue to think that Gardasil is safe and effective."

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