Gardasil has been a matter of ongoing controversy since 2006. As both a gynecologist of 25 years and a mother of a teenager, I have considered Gardasil both as a physician and a mother wanting what is best and safest for my daughter. I have not just listened to the Gardasil salesmen, but I have looked at the scientific data myself. I believe this vaccine should be optional and I respect individuals that choose to opt out, but I hope these decisions are based in science and not sensationalistic journalism.
Gardasil covers four strains of Humana Papilloma Virus (6, 11, 16 and 18). Two strains cause genital warts and two are associated with cancer. The cancers include cervical, vaginal, cancer of the genital skin, anal cancer and cancer of the throat/tonsils. It does not even require penetration intercourse to transmit the virus – both intimate touching and oral sex are known to spread the disease.
Deaths do occur in our country due to this virus. But more commonly, these infections result in emotional devastation and trigger invasive tests and procedures. These procedures can be associated with infertility and pregnancy loss. Almost every week I have a patient in tears over the news that she has an abnormal PAP smear or genital warts. There is also a significant financial burden associated with these evaluations.
So do I think the vaccine is safe? While nothing is perfect, I believe that more death/disease will be prevented by vaccinating than caused by the vaccinating. Recent data on Gardasil shows a 56% decline in the vaccine strains of HPV – this is impressive considering only 49% of females in the survey received at least one dose and only 32% completed the vaccine. There is no risk of getting infected by vaccinating because the vaccine does not contain the live virus. Individuals with a yeast allergy should not receive Gardasil. Systems are in place that track complications that occur after receiving the vaccine – the complication may or may not be caused by the vaccine. The most common complications were fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache, fever, hives, localized pain, redness and swelling at the injection sight.
I hope this information will help young women and mothers in making a decision about the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine that has spurred such emotion in our country.