Earlier this month, Virginia’s House of Delegates voted 62-34 to rescind its first-in-the-nation Gardasil mandate.
The 2007 state law requires pre-adolescent girls to be vaccinated before entering the sixth grade against the Human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. The law’s repeal is now before the state Senate.
Parents currently receive an “opt-in” letter explaining the benefits of the vaccine, and their daughters are not barred from attending school if they refuse.
However, the most important information parents need to make an informed decision has been missing up to now. A just-published medical risk/benefit analysis by two Canadian researchers shows why the law should never have passed in the first place.
A year after Gardasil was fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration, the District of Columbia and Texas followed Virginia’s lead and Gardasil became a hot-button political issue.
In the Sept. 12, 2011, Republican presidential debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann called it a “potentially dangerous drug” and said it could lead to “mental retardation.” Bachmann’s first claim was true, the second was not.
Although mental retardation is not one of the possible side-effects listed by Lucija Tomljenovic and Christopher Shaw of the University of British Columbia’s Neural Dynamics Research Group, “death, convulsions, paraesthesia, paralysis, Guillain–Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis, facial palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, anaphylaxis, autoimmune disorders, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolisms and cervical cancers” are.
Gov. Rick Perry, whose executive order mandating Gardasil injections was later overturned by the Texas legislature, was attacked by social conservatives, who objected to what they viewed as government usurpation of their parental rights.
All true, but Tomljenovic and Shaw make a compelling medical argument that suggests Gardasil mandates are a very bad idea. For young girls and women in developed countries like the U.S., the still unknown risks of a life-threatening adverse reaction to the vaccine far outweighs the known risks of contracting the disease.
“In the Western world, cervical cancer is a rare disease with mortality rates that are several times lower than the rate of reported serious adverse reactions (including deaths) from HPV vaccination,” they write.
Last year, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch, FDA reported 26 new deaths and many more severe reactions — including seizures, blindness and paralysis — in patients receiving Gardasil injections between Sept. 2010 and Sept. 2011.
Since there are no government mandates requiring informed consent for vaccinations, it’s likely that most, if not all, of the victims were unaware that 88 percent of all cervical cancer deaths occur in Third World countries.
Tomljenovic and Shaw conclude that there’s not even enough scientific evidence that HPV vaccines prevent cervical cancer:
“At present there are no significant data showing that either Gardasil (Merck) or Cervarix (GlaxoSmithKline) can prevent any type of cervical cancer since the testing period employed was too short to evaluate long-term benefits of HPV vaccination,” they write.
Also pointing to the lack of testing, Dr. Diane Harper, a leading HPV researcher funded by Merck, has called the use of Gardasil on females under age 16 “a great big public health experiment.”
If they knew there was scant scientific evidence that HPV vaccines reduce the odds of getting cervical cancer beneath those achieved by regular Pap smears, few parents would fork over $360 for a three-shot Gardasil regimen and risk rare but possibly severe reactions.
The vaccine may make sense for some families with a history of cervical cancer, but this private decision should be made by parents in consultation with their doctors.
Certainly not by state legislators who spend $1 million annually to turn Virginia’s 11-year-olds into guinea pigs.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner’s local opinion editor.