HARLINGEN — Ever since a vaccine against a cancer-causing virus became available, controversy has abounded about its safety, effectiveness and even necessity.
The vaccine, Gardasil, was released in 2006 by pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. It was hailed as a vaccination against HPV (human papillomavirus). The vaccine protects people against at least two strains the can cause cervical and other cancers.
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health care professionals recommended children receive the vaccination as early as age 9. Some states considered mandatory vaccination.
However, many parents were outraged at the implication that their children were sexually active at that age. They were even more concerned about safety issues, saying it hadn’t been properly tested and there were serious side effects. They said the drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration after only six months.
Dr. Bobby Muñiz, a local pharmacist, said Gardasil has numerous side effects, including strokes and seizures. He strongly disagreed with vaccinating children as young as 9 years old.
“That’s too young to be taking it with the side effects,” said Muñiz, owner of Rio Grande Pharmacy and member of the Harlingen school board.
“When I go to pharmacy seminars, they’re saying more research needs to be done,” he said. “Based on more concerns about additional risks, I don’t offer it. I just give general information.”
An online article from CBS News details concerns by Dr. Diane Harper, one of the lead researchers of Gardasil. She expresses concern in the article about girls as young as 11 years old being vaccinated. She also said there’s no proof the vaccine lasts longer than five years, although some in the medical community claim it lasts a lifetime.
If it doesn’t last, she said, the children are at risk from serious side effects, “small but real,” for no benefit.
“The benefit to public health is nothing, there is no reduction in cervical cancers,” Harper says in the article. “They are just postponed, unless the protection lasts for at least 15 years and over 70 percent of all sexually active females of all ages are vaccinated.”
She also says in the article that enough serious side effects have been reported after Gardasil use that the vaccine could prove riskier than the cervical cancer it purports to prevent.
The American Cancer Society, however, said that the article grossly misrepresents what Harper actually said.
The organization refers to the hoax-busting snopes.com website, which says that yes, Harper has expressed concerns about how long Gardasil will last. She’s also voiced concern about whether it might lead some women to avoid taking other precautions against STDs, “but she has never said that Gardasil “doesn’t work,” “wasn’t tested,” or was “dangerous.”
In addition, Dr. Harper has continued to publish articles in health journals related to the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine.
There are three licensed HPV vaccines available in the United States. Some groups claim Gardasil was approved after being tested on fewer than 2,000 girls under the age of 16. However, the CDC says 29,000 participants were studied in clinical trials.
Gardasil 9 was approved in 2014 after clinical trials with more than 15,000 participants. Cervarix was approved for use in 2009 after clinical trials involving 30,000 women and girls.
Fears still abound about the side effects of Gardasil. One accusation on the Internet claims 32 people have died.
The www.truthaboutgardasil.com website puts the fatality rate at more than 100.
The website claims the vaccine has caused seizures, strokes, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, headaches, stomach pains, muscle pain and weakness, and chest pains. It provides a long list of more side effects.
However, the CDC says that, like all vaccinations, the HPV immunization has a few side effects which include fever, headache, fatigue and nausea.
By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
HARLINGEN — HPV is a virus that has been associated with many cancers.
Dr. Ruben Torres, an obstetrician/gynecologist, says there are numerous strains of HPV, which stands for human papillomavirus.
“There are two main groups, high risk and low risk,” Torres said. “HPV genotypes 16 and 18 are high risk.”
Genotype refers to the genetic makeup of an organism in reference to a specific trait.
“It’s very, very common among people that are sexually active over the course of their lives,” Torres said. “HPV infections are found in young sexually-active adults. Women are most at risk.”
Very often, people don’t even know they have it. If they remain healthy they can probably avoid any complications from the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says HPV makes up a group of more than 150 related viruses. Each virus has been assigned a number.
“HPV is named for the warts (papillomas) some HPV types can cause,” says the CDC. “Some other HPV types can lead to cancer, especially cervical cancer.”
There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females, says the CDC.
“HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact,” says the CDC. “HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person.”
A person can infect someone else even when he or she has no signs or symptoms.
“You can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected, making it hard to know when you first became infected,” says the CDC.
By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
HARLINGEN — While Gardasil seems to be the major topic of discussion regarding HPV vaccines, there are actually two.
The Texas Department of State Health Services says two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, have been licensed in the United States.
Gardasil works against four strains of the virus and is licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for both boys and young men and girls and young women ages 9 through 26 years. Cervarix vaccinates people against two strains of the virus. It’s only approved for use in girls and young women ages 9 through 26 years. Both vaccines are given in three shots over six months.
The vaccines are recommended for children at such a young age to ensure they’re inoculated long before they engage in any sexual activity.
The DSHS website says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all 11- or 12-year-old girls get the three doses of either brand of HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer. Girls and young women ages 13 through 26 should get HPV vaccine if they have not received any or all doses when they were younger, according to the CDC.
CDC also recommends Gardasil for all boys age 11 or 12 years, says the DSHS. Males 13 through 21 years of age who did not get any or all of the three recommended doses when they were younger, should get the vaccine, the CDC says. All men may receive the vaccine through age 26, and should speak with their doctor to find out if getting vaccinated is right for them.
The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men and men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.