The HPV Vaccine, which guards against Human Papilloma Virus, has been available since June, 2006.
Few side effects have been reported; in fact, according to VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) nearly all reactions to the HPV vaccine have been very mild, compared to other vaccines, such as MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) and DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus).
Vaccine reactions are typically a low fever or mild pain at the injection site although there remains much controversy about the vaccine’s safety and scare tactics abound. Even vaccines which cause higher incidence of serious reaction than the HPV vaccine are still exponentially safer than the diseases they prevent.
HPV is a common but potentially serious group of viruses, of which more than 100 strains exist. Most men and women, by the time they reach adulthood, have been exposed to this virus. In 90% of the cases, our immune system clears the virus within two years.
About 30% of the strains are sexually transmitted. Of these, a few are considered ‘high-risk’. They may cause abnormal Pap tests and can lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis or anus. Others, called ‘low-risk’ strains may result in genital warts or even cause Pap test abnormalities.
Cervical cancer is the most serious complication of the HPV virus. Nearly 4,000 women in the United States die annually from this disease – worldwide, the numbers are a staggering 270,000.
So why does the controversy still exist over a vaccine which has been proven to prevent the HPV virus?
According to a Reuter’s article, the scare over the vaccine was fueled, in large part, by Michele Bachmann during her run for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination. One of Bachmann’s rivals, Texas Governor Rick Perry, had mandated the vaccine as part of the Texas state school vaccination program in 2007 (It was subsequently overturned.) In a 2011 debate, Bachmann seized upon an opportunity to make her rival look bad, saying he ‘forced innocent little girls to have a government injection that was potentially dangerous”. The next day, while on the Today show, Bachmann added fuel to the fire by claiming she knew of a woman whose daughter had become ‘mentally retarded’ after receiving the vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics tried to quell the controversy caused by Bachmann’s unsubstantiated and self-serving remarks by issuing a statement which contained actual facts, backed by scientific research, which showed the vaccine to be safe.
In fact, so incredulous were some of the country’s top Bioethicists, that two offered rewards if Bachmann could produce proof that even one person suffered such a reaction. (One of the rewards was in excess of $10,000.) They offered to donate the rewards to Bachmann’s favorite charity and invited her to ‘put her money where her mouth was’ by donating to their charity of choice should she fail to produce a victim.
Bachmann’s campaign never replied. She never collected the reward, as she remained silent, apparently unable to find anyone with a reaction worse than a sore arm or mild headache.
As is typical, however, outlandish claims by dramatic and power-inebriated political candidates seem to get more air time than scientists talking about real facts. Possibly this is because scientists tend to behave in a calmer, more self-restrained style, which is good for science but bad for television.
A survey done by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that 85% of parents planned to have their child vaccinated. Twelve percent were ‘undecided’, and cited claims made on the internet as the reason for their fear. Three percent were adamant they would not vaccinate under any circumstances, apparently fearful their offspring might not be able to comprehend a fact-deficient political debate in the future.
It’s clear that science and facts are winning the battle, but there remains much to be accomplished to educate parents of girls in middle school about the benefits of HPV prevention. Citizens for Choice supports this education, as they support all education for men and women alike to foster reproductive health.