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Education Reporter

New Analysis of HPV Vaccine Shows Troubling Side Effects
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Gardasil, the vaccine against the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), was approved in the United States two and a half years ago for girls as young as age nine. Dozens of states passed legislation promoting the routine administration of the HPV vaccine to school-age girls, even though HPV is not transmittable in a school setting. Merck, Gardasil's manufacturer, now seeks FDA approval to market the vaccine for young boys as well as girls.

Merck's massive, pull-out-all-the-stops marketing campaign has convinced about five million American girls to receive the $360 three-shot series since 2006. The marketing campaign encourages girls to become "one less" victim of cervical cancer. "It was like a big hype among my friends," teenager Gabby Swank told CBS News, "because we're like, 'we're gonna get it' because we felt almost pressured by the commercials." Gardasil helps to prevent two strands of HPV that are linked to about 70% of cases of cervical cancer.

Critics of the vaccine accuse Merck of creating a false sense of security among girls who may not understand the limited protection the vaccine actually offers. Critics also point to the many adverse side effects that girls receiving the vaccine have experienced. For example, Gabby Swank, quoted above, has suffered seizures, strokes and heart problems since receiving the shots. Her neurologist believes Gardasil is to blame.

A new report from the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) compares Gardasil to Menactra, the meningitis vaccine administered to patients in the same age group, and shows that Gardasil's side effects vastly outnumber Menactra's.

The report uses data from the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) to compare adverse events associated with the two vaccines. About three times as many patients — more than 5,000 in all — reported visiting the emergency room after receiving Gardasil as reported going to the ER after receiving Menactra. 29 patients died after receiving Gardasil, while only six died after receiving Menactra. Gardasil was associated with five times more "Did Not Recover" reports and seven times more "Disabled" reports than Menactra. All these data are especially significant because Menactra has been available for over a year longer than Gardasil, yet has resulted in many times fewer adverse side effects.

The NVIC report points out that before FDA licensing, Gardasil was tested on fewer than 1,200 girls ages 16 and younger. The Centers for Disease Control released a statement in October of 2008 maintaining that girls and women who receive Gardasil have no higher incidence of health problems, hospitalizations, injuries, or deaths than those who do not receive the shot. "This analysis comparing adverse events reports to VAERS following receipt of Gardasil and Menactra appears to contradict that assertion," concluded the NVIC report. (CBS News, 2-6-09)

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