April 14, 2010
The government told us to become ‘one less’ and to vaccinate ourselves as part of the ‘fight against cervical cancer.’ It is certainly a campaign we needed but is Ian Frazer’s ‘hpv vaccine’ the answer we were looking for? The campaign itself was certainly effective. It was so strong that one could almost presume that to not vaccinate yourself would be like encouraging cervical cancer. Girls around the world were quite literally grabbed and jabbed at a rate that would almost suggest that perhaps cancer was lurking in the waiting room. No part of the campaign encouraged women to research the vaccine in order to empower themselves to make informed decisions about their own bodies and health. In many cases women were not even provided with the most basic information required to make informed decisions. General practitioners receive payment per vaccinations, not general discussions. Information that was scarcely distributed included the vaccines duration of effectiveness, possible side effects and pap smear requirements post inoculation. This could raise the question whether ethically, or legally, some patients have given ‘informed consent’ for their Gardasil vaccinations. (NB: Gardasil also goes under the slightly varied title ‘Silgard’ in Europe).
Firstly, Gardasil doesn’t make girls immune from cervical cancer, it vaccinates against several strains of the human papilloma virus (hpv). In 98% of cases, hpv clears by itself. However, in rare cases, if the virus persists and is left undetected, it can lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes about 10 years. Girls are required to maintain their regular pap smears after vaccinations as they are still at risk of developing cervical cancer. One of the lead researchers involved in the creation of Gardasil, Dr.Diane Harper, surprised the medical community when she raised concerns that the hpv vaccine should only be issued with more complete warnings. She also made it clear that none of the experts who created the vaccine actually know how long it lasts. Around five years, perhaps? Dr. Harper also confirmed that, “There are serious adverse events, including death, associated with Gardasil use.”
There was much controversy about the haste with which Gardasil came onto the market and the creating company Merck (you may remember them from the recently infamous Vioxx)  was ridiculed for not trialing the vaccine long enough to know if it could lead to any long term health problems. From the limited information supplied by doctors and consent forms one would presume that the only possible adverse reaction to Gardasil was redness or soreness. This is actually a far cry from the realities. In Australia alone in 2007, 17 girls per week were experiencing adverse reactions to Gardasil including seizures and numbness. Dr. Diane Harper has also stated, “The rate of serious adverse events reported is 3.4/100,000 doses distributed. The current incidence rate of cervical cancer in the United States is 7/100,000 women.” It is important however, to remember that adverse reactions are also substantially underreported and doses distributed would in fact be significantly less than doses of the vaccine actually administered.
Adverse reactions to Gardasil can and have included anything from fainting and vomiting to difficulty breathing, joint pain, chest pain, muscle weakness, stomach aches or seizures. Side effects can be experienced up to months after the vaccination and can be long term. According to the Australian distributor of Gardasil, CSL, there is also a rare risk of Guillain Barre Syndrome. Guillain Barre Syndrome is an auto immune disorder of the central nervous system and one of the leading causes of non-trauma-induced paralysis in the world.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia (TGA) website notes under it’s alerts and advisories for Gardasil that they are, “aware of a small number of cases in which neurological symptoms, similar to those experienced in patients with demyelinating disorders such as multiple sclerosis, have been reported shortly after HPV vaccination”. In December 2009, an Australian neurologist, Dr. Ian Sutton wrote a peer reviewed medical journal article that gardasil had triggered MS like symptoms in some girls after inoculation. A subsequent article in a journal of childhood neurology was published in the United States. It examined a case in which a 16 year old girl was left blind and brain damaged due to demyelination after receiving the Gardasil vaccination.
Alarmingly, the U.S government clinical trials website indicates that there are various sub group trials yet to be completed including hpv sufferers’ and some patients with auto immune conditions. It’s just a shame patients were not made aware of this prior to inoculation, if in fact they were even aware that they had these conditions.
In the U.S other adverse reactions reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have included anaphylaxis, motor neuron disease, pancreatitis, auto immune diseases and deaths. According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) in the U.S, “as of January 2010, there were more than 17,000 reports of adverse reactions regarding this vaccine. Among them are 59 deaths, 18 of which were among girls under the age of 17.”
This kind of information should be made available to patients prior to being vaccinated. The lack of information provided to patients regarding Gardasil has been misleading. Furthermore, such low standards of pharmaceutical and consultative medicine impinge on a patients ability and right to give informed consent. In the future will Gardasil be remembered as the public health experiment that went catastrophically wrong, resulting in widespread serious illness? Have any of those responsible for the vaccine been negligent in their creation, marketing and distribution? That could be for the courts to decide. In the U.S there are currently 50 Gardasil related lawsuits, with many to follow.  In India, the HPV vaccination has been suspended following three sudden deaths, 120 reported illnesses and allegations of human rights abuse. It starts to make you wonder whether it’s really cervical cancer that is being fought here. Or what exactly girls are signing up to be ‘one less’ of? This is the information that the campaign never gave you. Now, what’s our government going to do?