Watch a 9-minute video on HPV
What is HPV?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a relatively common sexually transmitted disease passed on through genital contact, usually by sexual intercourse. There are more than 100 subtypes of HPV. Some forms of the virus can cause warts (papillomas), which may appear on a woman's cervix, vagina or vulva. Other forms of the virus can cause abnormal cell growth on the lining of the cervix -- cervical dysplasia -- that years later can turn into cancer. However, in more than 90 percent of cases the infections are harmless and go away without treatment. The body's own defense system expels the virus. Often, women experience no signs, symptoms or health problems.
On June 8, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new HPV vaccine -- Gardasil -- for 9- to 26-year-old girls and women. A few weeks later, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend that all girls ages 11 and 12 receive Merck's new vaccine. Gardasil is designed to protect against four of the more than 100 different HPV strains. It is given as a three dose series costing $120 per dose, or $360 for the complete set of shots.
How common is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is not as common as other types of cancer. For example, in 2003 there were 14.4 cases of skin cancer per 100,000 population, nearly twice the rate of cervical cancer. Rates for colon cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer were even higher. In fact, women are nearly 15 times more likely to be stricken with breast cancer than with cervical cancer.
How safe is the HPV vaccine?
By June 1, 2014, less than 8 years after the HPV vaccine was licensed in the United States, 34,700 adverse reaction reports pertaining to Gardasil were filed with the federal government -- an average of 12 reports per day. Through the Freedom of Information Act, the content of these reports was made available. According to Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization, they "read like a catalog of horrors." In the case reports submitted to the FDA, 165 deaths were described due to blood clots and heart disease. In addition, many of the vaccine recipients were stricken with serious and life-threatening disabilities, including Guillain-Barre syndrome, myalgia, paresthesia, loss of consciousness, seizures, convulsions, swollen body parts, chest pain, heart irregularities, kidney failure, visual disturbances, arthritis, joint pain, difficulty breathing, severe rashes, persistent vomiting, miscarriages, menstrual irregularities, reproductive system complications, genital warts, vaginal lesions and HPV infection -- the main reason to vaccinate. Thousands of teenage girls and young women were rushed to the hospital for debilitating ailments following their Gardasil shots. (It should be noted that although the reports appear to implicate the HPV vaccine in a variety of adverse reactions, definitive causation has not been established. Conversely, it should also be noted that a confidential study conducted by a major vaccine manufacturer indicated that "a fifty-fold under-reporting of adverse events" is likely. In other words, perhaps only 2 percent of all adverse reactions are revealed. Thus, more than 1 million teenage girls and young women could have been hurt by Gardasil during the 8-year period between June 8, 2006 and June 2014.)
How effective is the HPV vaccine?
The Gardasil vaccine is being promoted as "100 percent effective." However, this is a deceptive assessment of its true ability to protect against cervical cancer. Early studies merely showed that Gardasil is effective against just two strains of cancer-causing HPV (the ones included in the vaccine). Researchers have identified at least 15 cancer-causing HPV strains. In addition, the vaccine is only effective against these two strains in women with no evidence of prior exposure to these two strains. The vaccine does not prevent infection against non-vaccine types of cancer-causing HPV. It also has no efficacy in women who have already been exposed to the two cancer-causing strains included in the vaccine. In fact, these women may have a greater risk of developing cervical cancer.