Both sides are passionate about the issue, which has become as polarized as any political hot topic. One side says that the HPV vaccination (specifically the Gardisil vaccine) is safe, and that it’s vital to ending cervical and other cancers associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV). The other side says it’s harming, and even killing, healthy teenage kids and has no place in preventative medicine. Is either side correct, or could both sides be missing the mark?
A heated debate has arisen between health officials and anti-vaccination activists over the safety of HPV vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) say it’s safe. Opponents say it’s crippling and killing children. Take a closer look at each side of the controversy below, and then decide for yourself.
The Official Stance
According to the CDC, vaccines like Gardasil are safe and effective against many HPV strains responsible for cancer. The CDC recommends girls and boys both receive the vaccine before they become sexually active. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a similar stance. It estimates over 270 million doses of HPV vaccines have been administered, with no verified adverse events beyond “rare reports of anaphylaxis.” The WHO has also investigated reports of autoimmune responses to the vaccine, but hasn’t found any link between the two.
The Other Stance
Some people believe vaccines pose a far greater threat than the CDC and the WHO are willing to admit. They assert the HPV vaccine is responsible for numerous injuries and deaths, and that the CDC is ignoring important data. Research backing these claims is scarce, but one study shows the vaccine may cause two cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) for every 100,000 injections. Another study found 0.1-0.2 cases of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis for every 100,000 injections.
A rare phenomenon called molecular mimicry could be responsible. Molecular mimicry occurs when the presence of proteins from bacteria or viruses confuse the immune system. This can make your immune cells turn on your own body, leading to autoimmune disease. For example, Epstein-Barr virus may trigger some cases of systemic lupus and multiple sclerosis, and a strain of strep could be responsible for some cases of psoriasis. It is possible proteins found in the HPV vaccine could trigger GBS and similar autoimmune responses affecting the nervous system. This is still under debate.
The Bottom Line
It’s likely that the CDC is ignoring a possible threat -- but also that anti-vaccination activists have blown that threat out of proportion. Risk factors could predispose certain people to have these rare reactions. They’re drugs; reactions sometimes happen with drugs. Research into risk factors could help more people who aren’t at risk vaccinate more confidently, with those predisposed to certain disorders advised to opt out without judgment.
Vaccines have done wonders for disease control, but they have also likely harmed some people along the way. Researchers and activists might be able to find some common ground between them if only each could adjust the angle of their viewpoint a little. Creating and maintaining herd immunity is important, but so is protecting every person who could have a rare reaction. And since we are talking about a virus (HPV) that is usually harmless and goes away by itself, and only in rare cases can lead to cancers or genital warts, it's understandable why many would question the need for a vaccine in this case. Until we have more definitive answers about the connections between the HPV vaccines and GBS and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, the controversy will continue.
~ Here’s to Your Health and Wellness