By Bee Repartee
June 23, 2009
In school, I decided to tackle the Gardasil topic for my term paper. I enjoyed working on it, however it was interesting to me the layers and layers of information I uncovered. I know there are several who are interested in what take I had and I ended up surprising myself in the end.
Bottom line is that I don’t recommend this shot for anyone under 30 years old. All my research and data took me in this surprising direction. For those interested in my paper proper, I am including a chunk of my draft below. (and for those searching for term papers, this page is easily google-able, so feel free to write your own paper, Plagiarism Bob)
Gardasil: Effective HPV Immunization for Girls or Completely Unnecessary?
Cancer is one of those words that make people take notice. We’ve been told by doctors that cancer is out there, indiscriminately affecting all walks of life. With cancers at the forefront of media and health issues of today, it is reassuring to see strides against this medical monster named cancer, and in particular, cervical cancer. As of 2006, the pharmaceutical giant, Merck, was given approval by the FDA to market and sell Gardasil, a groundbreaking vaccination. This immunization was touted by the medical community and media alike as the cervical cancer cure that effectively blocked the four major strains of the human Papillomavirus that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. (HPV Vaccine, 2007) What is HPV, you ask? How do you get it? Are there side effects to Gardasil? These are good questions but the more pressing issue is whether or not Gardasil is an effective immunization against HPV or is it completely unnecessary?
Where alternative methods are as effective as the HPV immunization, Gardasil immunizations for young women are toxic, not completely effective or necessary, and in the end, sending young girls the wrong message about avoiding sexually transmitted diseases.
Women are advised to eat healthy, exercise daily, and to get their yearly medical checkups. However, fighting cervical cancer cannot stop with any one of these single solutions, including the HPV immunization. Granted, Gardasil gives many people hope against cancer, as Merck proudly claims the drug would leave us with, “One Less” lost to this disease. It does not take losing a loved one to find the benefits of a cervical cancer cure. Statistics speak for themselves. The American Cancer Society estimates that “in 2009, about 11,270 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States”. Strides in modern medicine have helped war against all kinds of viruses and illness but these statistics currently translate to about 4,070 women dying of invasive cervical cancer in this year alone. With early detection, the 5-year survival rate for invasive cervical cancer is at 92% and only improving on that statistic as further advancements are made in health sciences (American Cancer Society). But even with Gardasil bringing women the “One Less” ideal, the 5-year survival rate illustrates to us that with early detection and/or preventative steps, proactive measures are not only wise but absolutely necessary.
First, it’s important to recognize the nature of HPV and how it is affects women to understand the best way to fight cervical cancers. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that is undetectable in most of its many different strains. In the American Journal of Public Health, Joseph Balog addresses the effects of the virus, ranging from no symptoms whatsoever, to warts, to the more serious pelvic cancers. Balog reminds us, citing a recent study that revealed “26.8% of women are infected with some form of HPV” (Balog, 619). These are alarming numbers; however, wouldn’t this indicate a mass of women contracting cervical cancers at an astounding rate? Surprisingly, not. The American Cancer Society and Center for Disease Control concur that “within 2 years, 90%” of the 6 million newly-infected individuals every year, for women under 30 years of age, the body’s defenses will kick in and naturally clear the HPV virus on its own. (CDC Fact Sheet)
As nature designed, the human body’s natural defense triggers the immune system to fight against HPV, just as any other type of sickness or virus. In an average healthy female, the immune system then produces just the right antibodies to fight off the HPV infection. I would also stress that Merck recommends Gardasil for the demographic of women without compromised immune systems so in an average healthy female; the immune system produces just the right amount of antibodies to fight off the HPV infection. Which leaves us with the question of the necessity of Gardasil, especially for women under 30 years old? Our bodies are in tune to handle this infection on our own making the immunization a moot point for the under 30 demographic.
Since there are so many different strains of HPV, the medical community has studied and uncovered what are considered bad strains; those commonly seen with cervical cancers. Both Stanford University’s Devasena Gnanashanmugam, Instructor in Pediatrics of Infectious Disease, and Yvonne Maldonado, Professor of Pediatrics and Health Research and Policy of Medicine, explain that there are more than 100 different strains of HPV, with only 30 to 40 of these strains classified as malignant. The strains identified as Types 16 and 18 have been proven to cause 70% of cervical cancer and Types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts (Vaccines, 2008). Since Gardasil only targets these four “bad” strains, the vaccine at any age will not guarantee immunity from another damaging HPV strain. So, how can women over 30 defend against HPV? As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure.”
Preventions can be taken in many ways: education, behaviors, and being proactive with one’s health. The first step of education is how important it is for young women to weigh the responsibilities of being sexually active. Public schools have taken a large step in prevention by incorporating classes about STDs in health class while parents are encouraged by the medical community to speak to their young people about sex. There are many proponents of abstinence programs who encourage waiting until the student is older, or until the young adult has found the one they want to be with for the rest of their life. As a proponent of HPV vaccination, Tami L. Thomas, Assistant Professor and Nurse Practitioner at the Medical College of Georgia, disputes the claims of abstinence programs by citing a study by the Guttmacher Institute. Thomas refutes Gardasil encouraging sexual activity and further argues that abstinence only programs do not work. (Thomas, 429-31) Abstinence for young women is an idyllic goal and honestly, I agree. However, the reality is that best laid plans aren’t always followed and bad situations do happen. The key is the education of our young people by parents, caregivers, school, and doctors about how HPV is spread and stressing the responsibility that comes with being sexually active. When young women are informed that an immunization causes “One Less” to die of cervical cancer, the assumption is that Gardasil is an end all. However, we understand from earlier that Gardasil does not cover the majority of the other 28 to 38 malignant strains of HPV. Clearly, STD education will go beyond what Gardasil accomplishes and also sends the right message to young people about taking control of the behavior that causes STDs and ultimately their health.