BY CINDY BEVINGTON
Dr Diane M. Harper, a lead researcher in the development of the humanpapilloma virus vaccine, says giving the vaccine to 11 year old girls “is a great big public health experiment” The lead researcher who spent 20 years developing the vaccine for humanpapilloma virus says the HPV vaccine is not for younger girls as it has not been tested for effectiveness in younger girls, and administering the vaccine to girls as young as 9 may not even protect them all. And, in the worst-case scenario, instead of serving to reduce the numbers of cervical cancers within 25 years, such a vaccination crusade actually could cause the numbers to go up.
“There is not enough evidence gathered on side effects to know that safety is not an issue”.
“Giving it to 11 year olds is a great big public health experiment”, said Diane M. Harper, who is a scientist, physician, professor and the director the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire.
Internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field, Harper has been studying HPV and a possible vaccine for several of the more than 100 strains of HPV for 20 years – most of her adult life.
All of her trials have been with subjects ages 15-25. In her own practice, Harper believes the ideal way of administering the new vaccine is to offer it to women ages 18 and up. At their first inoculation, they should be tested for the presence of HPV in their system.
If the test comes back negative, then schedule the follow-up series of the three-part shots. But if it comes back positive?
“Then we don’t know squat, because medically we don’t know how to respond to that” Harper said
Harper is an independent researcher whose vaccine work is funded through Dartmouth in part by both Merck & Co and GlaxoSmithKline, which means she is an employee of the university, not the drug companies. Mercks’s vaccine, Gardasil, protects against four strains of HPV, two of which cause genital warts, Nos. 6 and 11. The other two, HPV 16 and 18, are cancer-causing viruses.
Not tested on young girls
The idea is to inoculate them before they become sexually active, since HPV can be spread through sexual intercourse. But that idea no matter how good the intentions behind it, is not the right thinking, Harper said. The zealousness to inoculate all these younger girls may very well backfire at the very time they need protection most, she said. “This vaccine should not be for 11 year old girls”, she reiterated. “It’s not been tested in little girls for efficacy. at 11, these girls don’t get cervical cancer – they won’t know for 25 years if they will get cervical cancer.
“Also the public needs to know that with vaccinated women and women who still get Pap smears (which test for abnormal cells that can lead to cancer), some of them will still get cervical cancer”. The reason she said, is because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV viruses that cause cancer – it’s only effective against two that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers.
For months, Harper said, she’s been trying to convince major television and print media to listen to her and tell the facts about this vaccine. “But no one will print it”, she said.
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