Should Women Reconsider Before Receiving the Gardasil Vaccine?

Each year in the United States, nearly 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Of these 12,000 women, a full third, or 4000, will die from the disease. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, causing 233,000 deaths each year. The FDA approved Gardasil on June 8, 2006 for females from 9-26 years in an effort to protect against cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers, which are caused by the HPV virus. The vaccine comes in a three-dose series for girls who are 11 or 12 years of age, and for women ages 13-26 who have not yet been vaccinated, or did not receive all three does.

Serious Potential Effects of Gardasil

Since the introduction of Gardasil, the FDA has reported forty-seven deaths related to the vaccine, and 6,723 adverse events have been attributed to Gardasil in 2008-1,061 of which were considered "serious" and 142 which were considered "life threatening." Adverse events can be a variety of effects from the vaccine, such as one woman who completed her Gardasil vaccination, and was diagnosed with full-blown cervical cancer fifteen months later. Another woman experienced breathing problems, severe migraines, swelling in her face, jaw and wrists, and ended up in a wheelchair following her second dose of Gardasil. A 19-year old girl suffered immediate side effects following her Gardasil vaccination including seizures, confusion, convulsion, dizziness, epilepsy, fatigue, pain and tremors, and two weeks following the third dose of Gardasil another patient developed complications, and passed away.

The FDA estimates that 235 cases included some sort of permanent disability from the vaccine, including 29 cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome and 147 cases of spontaneous abortions or miscarriages in cases where the vaccine was given to pregnant women. Although the causes of death in the 47 deaths is still considered "unknown," 41 of the deaths occurred within a month of receiving the Gardasil vaccine while another 17 occurred within two weeks of receiving the vaccine. Less extreme, but still cause for concern, sixty-two girls developed warts following their Gardasil vaccination-Gardasil is designed to prevent two particular strains of warts, and is not supposed to react with other HPV strains, yet previously healthy women developed genital warts following vaccination. The manufacturer of Gardasil, Merck, believes there are no safety issues associated with the Gardasil vaccine, and that the adverse reactions noted could be seen in the general population and that nothing ties them specifically to the vaccine.

Alternatives to Gardasil

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that it would be more cost effective to implement effective screening programs for cervical cancer rather than vaccinating young women with Gardasil (the vaccinations can cost from $500-$900 and are typically not covered by insurance). Many doctors believe that engaging in regular visits to your gynecologist and getting regular pap smears has roughly the same effect as receiving the Gardasil vaccine-with none of the potential side effects. Until the FDA has done more research on the vaccine, and studied the adverse reactions reported, the vaccine should not be used for young children, and women should make an informed decision when contemplating receiving the vaccine.