Life as an Extreme Sport

The Gardasil Controversy

This post on the Modestly Yours site, where I was directed by a friend (cuz y’all know I sure don’t qualify), perpetuates many of the myths and beliefs about Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. I did reply to the post in their comments, but since they are moderated and I was blunt in my disagreement, I don’t necessary expect the comment to make it to air (as it were). So, in the interests of preserving what I wrote, because damnit, I actually bothered to fact-check,…

Sorry, but I strongly disagree.

First, to clear up some misunderstandings in your post. Gardasil actually protects against four of the main variants of HPV, types 6, 11, 16 and 18. To break it down, HPV 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancer and adenocarcinomas, and 50% of the precancerous histologic lesions, CIN. The four variants together cause 90% of genital warts, which can be infectious and invisible for both men and women, and are not protected against from common prophylactic means (they can be, but as they can grow in areas not covered by condoms, they can be transmitted when you believe you’re having safe sex). Since warts can be flat, smooth, internal, or simply invisible, it’s extremely hard to get an accurate number of how many cases of HPV/genital warts there are – 200,000 per year is the tallied number, but it’s expected to be significantly higher. Unfortunately, the highly cancerous versions of HPV tend to be the ones that are invisible to detection.

It’s also worth remembering that HPV is indicated in other forms of genital cancer, as well as soft palate cancers.

Secondly, the vaccine age approval is nothing more than a reflection of the ages that Merck tested the vaccine in. This has practical reasons: most people, by age 26, are infected with HPV. Women who test clean of any of the variants being covered by Gardasil are encouraged to have the vaccine, regardless of their age. While their is not proof it will work, the body really doesn’t have an internal clock going “oh, you’re 28, so Gardasil won’t work in you.”

While the majority of HPV cases do clear up on their own, those are the low cancer risk variants that can be unsightly, but cause no real harm. (There are, after all, over 40 variants.) But the vaccine is not targetting these low cancer risk variants, it’s targetting the ones that kill.

Gardasil is also one of those vaccines that has been developed not just by the Big Pharma, but in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute, whose interest is in protecting the public, not in benefiting the stockholders. While it’s certainly more than sane to be suspicious of Big Pharma’s, and to carefully read the FDA decisions, the CDC isn’t implicated in or even involved in vaccines on the level you imply. Beyond that, the true test of science is empirical study and peer review – this is where the issues with Vioxx came out, after all. In the case of Gardasil, empirical evidence from around the world backs up the claims of the NCI and Merck. There is nothing in the vaccine suspension that brings any cause for concern, and is in fact the standard suspension for any number of vaccines we give children and ourselves daily.

Finally, though, your argument about “social engineering” and “childhood” are the most spurious. You’re suggesting that by vaccinating a 9 year old against HPV, the 9 year old is going to run out and become sexually active. This is hogwash, plain and simple. There is absolutely zero data that would even give this the merest credence – tell me, when you received your tetanus vaccine, did you go out and step on a rusty nail, just because you could? I mean, it might have been painful, but it wouldn’t run the risk of hurting you.

This is the exact same logic you’re using to argue that Gardasil is going to confer some sense of irresponsible behaviour on girls. But when you take the emotional “omg my baby is going to have sex eventually” aspect out of it, and transfer the example to something as benign as tetanus, the fallacy of the argument becomes clear.

But beyond that? Children receive numerous vaccinations through-out their childhood, and well into adulthood. If you think kids pay any attention to what’s being injected into them, you’re giving way too much credit to your kids. For them, it’s a doctor visit, it’s a needle, and that’s all. Go up to any 12 year old and ask them what vaccinations they’ve had – they might be able to list tetanus, especially if it was under a painful circumstance, and MMR, but that’s it.

Yes, there are recommendations for avoiding HPV infection, and they’re the same for avoiding any STI. But all it takes is sex with one person, and you cannot judge infection visually – there’s no way to know. (And this doesn’t even address things like date and stranger rape, and the vaccine is not effective after exposure.)

Thinking beyond the self for the moment, there are also future children – fetuses can be infected by HPV upon birth. Many women with precancerous and suspicious HPV are recommended and counceled to have their pregnancies time with a “clean” cervix in an effort to downgrade the risk to fetus.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable to realize that children are going to behave in ways that you don’t approve of… but as a parent, your job is to protect your child as best as possible. That means protecting them from danger, and cervical cancer is really, really dangerous. Yes, the short term means acknowledging the sexual potential of your child, but it is, in the long run, the better thing for your child.

2 comments

  1. I totally agree with you. I’m 26 and after reading up on Gardasil and finding out from my doctor that I can get it, I jumped all over that. I’ve had the first shot so far.

    How amazing is it to have a vaccine against an STD and as a result cancer all in one? That’s awesome! I spit in the eye of HPV and cervical cancer! Ah ha! Take that!! 🙂

    Parents should be all over this. Give them a pamphlet on the horrors of cervical cancer and I’m sure their silly objections will be harder to stick to.

    Let’s hope they can do this for other diseases as well.

  2. I completely agree…I ate fried eggs this morning…anyway, way off topic….I am seventeen and I am getting my second shot on good friday….they burn like a bitch but hey, anythings better than cervical cancer…and you know what sure I got my shot…but that did not make me want to run out and get it on….anyway, at this point I’m just happy to be 1/3 of 1 less

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