Why My Girl Is Not Vaccinated Against HPV
In Manitoba, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is offered to all Grade 6 girls. I had to do some serious soul-searching, as well as some research, before I decided against having my daughter vaccinated, and here’s why.
I should start out by declaring that I am not against vaccination, in general. My children are all fully vaccinated against all the life-threatening diseases for which vaccines are available in Manitoba – diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis B and meningitis. They didn’t get the chicken pox vaccine because they acquired immunity the old-fashioned way, by contracting chicken pox. Since my daughter has asthma, we usually get the flu shot, as well.
All of these vaccines have been used in North America for decades, and their efficacy, safety and side effects have been well documented. I do not believe the MMR vaccine causes autism – I think the North American diet, typically high in carbohydrates and low in healthy fats, is a much more likely culprit. But that is a different blog post.
I have, however, been reading very worrying studies about the HPV vaccine. In Israel, for example, eminent medical researchers are concerned that it is not safe for young girls. These are not crackpots, although there are plenty of those out there, using legitimate worries as grist for their mill. Aside from death, the most frightening, although mercifully rare, side effect is irreversible premature ovarian failure.
In the United States, the vaccine is also given to boys, and the side-effects are well known – fainting and pain are pretty common, especially in older boys. The question is, is it worth it?
Cervical cancer is not the same as ovarian cancer. Any woman who has regular Pap smears has an excellent chance of catching any changes before they go too far, and the procedure for removing the cells, while uncomfortable, is hardly life-changing. We all hate the speculum, even those of us with compassionate doctors who make sure to warm it up first. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to do those yucky tests anymore?
But here’s the rub. Getting the vaccine does NOT mean you don’t need Pap smears anymore. HPV causes about 70% of all cervical cancers, and you don’t want to miss the other 30%. You also still need to use condoms unless you are in a monogamous relationship, as the vaccine does not protect against any other sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, it reduces the prevalence of genital warts, but those do not cause cancer, and can easily be removed if necessary.
So why would anyone take the risk of these scary side effects (or even just fainting and pain), when the benefits are so dubious? Japan has withdrawn its approval of widespread vaccination of girls, and it looks like Israel may be following suit.
Why is North America dancing to Merck’s piping? Searching the web, I’ve found all sorts of self-congratulatory pieces about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, although most of them kind of admit that the long-term effects are unknown. It’s not clear to me who is financing these studies, or what the relationship is between the researchers and the drug companies. Following the money has never led anyone astray. Remembering the scandals about Vioxx, coincidentally also from Merck, I somehow don’t feel very confident in their commitment to our protection.
What do you think, am I being paranoid?