WRAL Investigates

Questions surround safety of cervical cancer vaccine

Posted February 19, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— In track and field, 17-year-old Holly Runstrom was one of the best high school athletes in the state. The mile, the 4 x 800 relay – she was a star.

"Track is my life," Runstrom said. "I love it. It's what I do."

Holly Runstrom Debate surrounds cervical cancer vaccine

Runstrom's life took a dramatic turn last May within days of taking Gardasil, a vaccine given to girls and women ages 9 to 26 to help protect against the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The Clyde teen says she was hospitalized with symptoms of dizziness, headaches, breathing difficulty, fatigue, stomach pains and chest pains, which she said felt like a knife had cut into her chest.

"Everything came back absolutely normal," said her mother, Marian Greene. "None of the tests were off. She felt awful, but there was no medical evidence – nothing pointing to what was wrong with her."

Two months after the symptoms started, doctors diagnosed Runstrom with mononucleosis.

Runstrom says that even today, she is still too weak to run or go to school.

"I don't have any strength," she said. "I get headaches constantly, and I never used to get headaches."

Her family thinks Gardasil is responsible. Doctors do not know if her condition is related to the vaccine or if it is a coincidence.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors reports like Runstrom's, says there is no evidence that the vaccine causes any serious side-effects.

Of the 22 million women and girls in the United States who have received the vaccine, approximately 10,000 cases of adverse side-effects have been reported. Of those, 6 percent are considered serious.

The CDC reports there are side-effects, including 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.

Hailed as a miracle breakthrough, Gardasil exploded on the U.S. market in 2006 as a way to help prevent infection from four types of human papillomavirus, two of which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

Doctors believe the vaccine, manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., will lower cervical cancer rates.

"You have to remember that 30 women a day are diagnosed with cervical cancer," said Dr. Nicole Parkerson, a Raleigh pediatrician who regularly administers the vaccine. "Ten a day die of cervical cancer. In my opinion, it's a huge benefit for girls this generation."

The National Vaccine Information Center, a vaccine watchdog group, is calling for more study of the vaccine and its side-effects.

The group says that compared with Menactra, a vaccine for meningitis, Gardasil is associated with at least twice as many emergency room visits, four times as many deaths, five times as many reports of not recovering and seven times as many reports of being disabled.

A CDC spokesman says the numbers are not a fair comparison of the two vaccines. Boys and girls both receive the meningitis vaccine. Gardasil involves three injections, which means more occurrences of side-effects.

The CDC had not issued a formal statement to WRAL News as of Thursday afternoon.

"NVIC is not a medical organization and has a long history of raising concerns about vaccines that are in direct conflict with the opinion of leading medical experts," Amy Rose, director of media relations at Merck, said in a statement to WRAL News.

Merck's Web site includes a statement referring to reports of serious side-effects. It says a reported case "does not necessarily mean that the vaccine caused or contributed" to the reported health problem.

Rose also says the company carefully monitors the safety of the vaccine.

"Nothing is more important to Merck than the safety of our products," she said. "Experts at the FDA and CDC also continue to review data, and as recently as four months ago, said 'Gardasil continues to be safe and effective, and its benefits continue to outweigh its risks.'"

Meanwhile, as the debate over the vaccine and its safety continues, Runstrom and her mother say they are moving forward and trying to stay positive.

"Every day is a new battle," Greene said. "Every day is a blessing."

Runstrom says she wants to find out how she became ill, but more than anything, she wants to race again.

"I want to be better, so I can fulfill my dreams and my goals," she said. "And I want to be healthy again. Mainly, that's what my goal is."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • sarah6 Feb 24, 2009

    Might I also add that although they cannot typically PROVE it was the vaccine...they know it is. Several girls were in the hospital with the same problems/symptoms...some worse than others. In my opinion it is one of those things where it doesn't affect some in the same way as others....but it should be by choice of the patient. Just from what I've seen here in my hometown what this vaccine has brought upon 2 girls, I will not take my daughter to get this vaccine nor would I get it. Its way to risky and all of these girls are HEALTHY and ACTIVE, no health problems up until they got gardasil. I think its all about how much money is being made off the vaccine and alot of girls are dieing because of it. Look it up, how many girls from mild symptoms to death even; that have the same stories. Very strange....this is all my opinion but please consider yourself or your daughter as a risk that she may end up the same way and weigh those possibilities very carefully.

  • sarah6 Feb 24, 2009

    A girl here in NM got very sick after the 3rd vaccination in October. She suffered from symptoms listed AND SO ON. She slept in a Hyperbalic chamber every night at home. Dr's took care of her along with prayers and Preists praying over her bed. She probably wouldn't make it through. Well, this past weekend a miracle walked in the door of the families store and told the father that he had " a word from God." He said she must go to a healing school in TX where there she would be healed. Well I finally am a witness to a miracle when I say that she is better than ever! You see, they say the vaccine was a poison that didn't allow Gods plan, whatever that may be. We must trust our lives in God and know that he will take care of us. Once they confessed their sins the healer healed them. This is NO JOKE at all it is very true and fortunate for this wonderful family who pulled through with God. This vaccine should not be given and I will email you this story if you'd like, Sarah@ewtitle.com.

  • Pulling for the Tarheels Feb 20, 2009

    Are studies showing anything as a follow-up for 1-3 years after receiving the vaccine? My daughter had the shot 2 years ago and did great. Now she is having dizziness, fatique, nausia, no appetite, sweats, etc - for no apparent reason. All test have come back normal - not diabetic and thyroid test was normal. Now we are wondering if it may be some delayed reaction.

  • allwayzsmilin99 Feb 20, 2009

    I can't believe how mean and nasty some of you are being. this girl and her family have obviously been through a lot. And I looked up the symptoms of mono, and this girl had a lot more going on than just mono. My neice got this shot and has had some medical issues since. She was a cheerleader and also ran track, with NO previous health concerns. Then one day while running she fainted out of nowhere. She is also now having heart problems and can't cheer or run. Coincidence? I don't think so.

  • 2002vtx1800c Feb 20, 2009

    It is apparent that the majority of you posting comments are the ones I worry the most about it is oviouse that you all don't know the first thing about this horrible vaccine. First of all you should know that there are 14 different kinds of HPV's that are thought to cause cervical cancer Gardasil only protects you from 2 the other 2 it claims to protect you from are HPV's that cause warts. Second there is now research showing that hen surpress 2 of the 14 the other 12 cervical causing HPV's become more dominate, bottom line is our girls are protected from NOTHING.

  • cj1951 Feb 20, 2009

    Until there is follow-up with by the FDA to ascertain if the recipients of this vaccine have a new medical condition the administration of this vaccine should be halted until further investigation is done. It should also be investigated why this vaccine is causing problems mainly with high achievers and athletes.

  • cj1951 Feb 20, 2009

    The comments that I have personally received from the many mothers that I have been in contact with state that their doctors refuse to consider the vaccine even when the symptoms start within days. Some doctors just refuse to report. Many doctors say that they have not seen such symptoms before and are trying to treat the symptoms and not the cause.
    In the close-out report to the FDA dated September 12th, 2008 there is a section called “New Medical Conditions”. If you check all the documents to the FDA from Merck in regards to this vaccine you will find that 73.3% chance of a girl or young woman having a new medical condition in one year after this vaccine. So, if as these videos state that over 22,000,000 have received the shot that means that there is a real possibility that 16,126,000 girls and young woman have some new medical condition.

  • cj1951 Feb 20, 2009

    I have been researching Gardasil for over two years now and I have seen and read other videos and stories done by the media. I found these videos to be amateurish at best. You could not hear the questions being asked for one. It is because of this that the people responding on this board the way they are. I am very disappointed in the reporting on this very sensitive topic.
    The truth of this vaccine is that the girls that are being affected are all athletes, high achievers with GPA’s of around 4.0, honor roll and very competitive. There were a few cases where the other is true but if you read the VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) like I have they had other health problems that would have mitigated their demise or problems.
    Presently the total VAERS reports are 15,167, 37 deaths, 6,152 have not recovered or recovery is unknown, 331 are disabled, 6,657 ER visits and 190 are considered life threatening. It has been determined that this is only about 1% reporting. cont.

  • lbl3373 Feb 20, 2009

    this is why you get the shot,

    27 yrs old. with 2 kids

  • lbl3373 Feb 20, 2009

    I do not understand the outrage against the vaccine.If you research the side effects and histories of vaccines such as MMR, Tetanus, Influenza, Diptheria, etc...they are very similiar to those side effects from Gardasil. They are all the same, you take the same risks/chances whenever you get a vaccine, this is no different. Unlike many of these vaccines, the Gardasil vaccine contains a deadened strain of the virus, not a live version.