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Study: Cervical cancer vaccine appears safe

Posted August 18, 2009

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— A report out Tuesday from the Journal of American Medical Association outlines the health problems and serious complications resulting from the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil.

Of more than 23 million doses administered in the United States, 32 people have died.

In the period studied, from June 2006 to December 2008, 12,424 reported some health problems connected to the vaccine. Of those, 6 percent, or 772, were considered serious medical conditions.

"We didn't find any unexpected findings," said Dr. Barbara A. Slade, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "While that seems like a lot of deaths, it really isn't an increase with what we've seen with other vaccines."

Hailed as a breakthrough, Gardasil exploded on the U.S. market as a way to help prevent infection from four types of human papillomavirus -- two of which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

The vaccine is usually administered in three doses in girls and women ages 9 to 26.
The CDC reports some side effects associated with the vaccine, such as fainting, pain and swelling at the injection site, headache, nausea and fever, but it has not found a common medical pattern to reports of serious adverse problems directly linked to the vaccine.

"The vaccine continues to appear to be safe," Slade said.

The study did find a higher amount of fainting and blood clots, but Slade, who also authored the study, said that does not mean that the vaccine caused the blood clots.

Still, medical experts like Dr. Daniel Smith, vice chairman of the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., say blood clots are one of the most serious side-effects and should be evaluated ahead of the vaccine.

"You should discuss these risks with your patient and do a risk assessment," he said.

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  • Leonardo Aug 20, 2009

    "It appears U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed the public to be guinea pigs for this HPV vaccine."

    I think that's a totally unfair assertion. There is no such thing as a completely safe vaccine. ALL vaccines have some risk associated with them. But we take them because the risks of the disease greatly outweigh the risks of the vaccine. The fact that only 32 deaths occurred (many unrelated to the vaccine itself) from 23,000,000 doses given makes it a very safe vaccine. That's a 0.0001% chance of dying from taking this vaccine.

  • auto3440 Aug 20, 2009

    It appears U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed the public to be guinea pigs for this HPV vaccine.

  • baracus Aug 20, 2009

    "Am I out of line?"

    To some degree, yes. What the news blurb don't emphasize is that in most cases there is no clear connection between getting the injection and the subsequent death. For example, apparently two of the deaths were caused by drug overdose. Three were due to viral illnesses that they may have gotten anyways. Others were due to conditions, like heart problems or seizures, that the patients had a previous history of.

  • Leonardo Aug 19, 2009

    "True, HPV can cause cervical cancer, but in the majority of cases clears itself up without the person even knowing they have it.".

    That may be true, but cervical cancer still causes over 4000 deaths every year.

  • Leonardo Aug 19, 2009

    cormip,

    All vaccines cause deaths. But you have to put it into perspective. How many lives do they SAVE? And is the number of lives they save significantly greater than the lives they cost? In a typical year, there are 4100 deaths from cervical cancer EACH YEAR. If this vaccine can prevent 70% of those deaths, then it saves many more lives than it costs.

    Or to put it another way, your chances of dying from getting the vaccine is 1 in 720,000. Your chances of dying from getting cervical cancer in your lifetime is around 1 in 450. So you're more than 1000x times more likely to die from cervical cancer than you are to die from this vaccine.

  • cormip Aug 19, 2009

    32 Deaths in 30 months, 12424 REPORTED Medical problems, 722 of those serious, and this vaccine is "considered safe"?!? What the heck does the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider to be UNsafe?

    "While that seems like a lot of deaths, it really isn't an increase with what we've seen with other vaccines."

    Wow apparently the bar is set really low. They're basically saying: "Hey a lot of other vaccines kill people at the same rate, so 32 deaths is OK!".

    Hmmm, with Gardasil sales of $1.4B per year, what's a few pesky deaths, right? This is the same company (Merck) that brought us VIOXX.

    http://www.merck.com/newsroom/press_releases/financial/2009_0203.html

    Am I out of line?

  • anti-Hans Aug 18, 2009

    This vaccine is dangerous and has been pulled off the market in European countries. True, HPV can cause cervical cancer, but in the majority of cases clears itself up without the person even knowing they have it. There are other tests that can help prevent cervical cancer, but this vaccine is terrible.