Gardasil. Our doctors and health officials, including Alberta’s chief medical officer Andre Corriveau, say it’s safe, it’s free, just do it. Those who have been harmed by it, and a number of vaccine researchers whose work has found the vaccine to be problematic and who have had the courage to be honest, say think carefully before you comply.
I understand what scientific consensus is. I understand the whole risk/benefit balance, both on the individual and collective level, personal risk for the greater good. But I also understand that science and the media have become corporatized. I’ve heard some of the stories of censorship and dried-up funding first-hand, from both journalists and scientists, and I know how too many missing pieces of the puzzle can change the entire picture.
If you trust our health authorities, great, it’ll be an easy decision for you to get your Gardasil shot. If you don’t, you’ll likely be faced with some condescending judgment about how silly you are not to “be on board with the science”. To that, I’d just like to say this: I am on the side of science, and while the voices of dissent on this issue are kept pretty quiet as far as our media goes, these voices are the voices of scientists also.
I had this conversation last week with Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons on her Facebook wall, and I find the “case closed” mentality on the topic disturbing. She is of course entitled to feel that Albertans ignoring their HPV vaccine are slightly paranoid and poorly informed, but does she mean to imply that the doctors and scientists who disagree with her position are also unduly paranoid and poorly informed?
Vaccine researcher Diane Harper, international HPV expert, professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School—clearly not an “anti-vaxer” as dissenting voices are so often referred to—has expressed a number of reservations about Gardasil. In a phone conversation with me a few years ago, she told me that she’s not at all comfortable with Gardasil being offered to young women under the age of 15, as the safety research was done in women over the age of 15. Speaking at the Fourth International Public Conference on Vaccination several years ago, she told her audience that the rate of serious adverse events is in fact a major concern. She also said that the threat of cervical cancer has been exaggerated, that incidence in the developed world is low, with four out of five cases occurring in the developing world. In an interview with the Huffington Post, she said “pap smears alone prevent more cervical cancers than can the vaccines alone,” and “if Gardasil is given to 11 year olds, and the vaccine does not last at least fifteen years, then there is no benefit—and only risk—for the young girl”.
The reason for her honesty, she said, is that she needs to be able to sleep at night. Can somebody please tell me how she isn’t a credible source, and how taking her seriously can possibly be labeled as paranoia?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists cervical cancer as a rare disease. In Canada, it is responsible for about one percent of all cancer deaths. What we have here is a vaccine that offers some temporary protection against two of many possible factors associated with a rare disease that in fact has many causes, and that may or may not strike decades later. It is a vaccine that protects against just two strains of a virus that actually only very rarely go on to cause cancer—ninety-five percent of HPV infections are cleared spontaneously by our immune systems, and of the remaining five percent, only a small number go on to develop into cervical cancer.
Yes, I’m aware that these two strains are associated with the majority of cervical cancers, but that isn’t the same as a direct line between the two all the time, or even most of the time. There are in fact many factors involved, as an August 2009 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reminded us. Other significant risk factors that rarely get discussed include smoking, long-term use of the birth control pill, unprotected promiscuous sex, poverty, and inadequate nutrition.
This temporary protection against two of the factors linked to cervical cancer happens to come with some rare but extremely serious adverse effects that have struck down too many young women on the cusp of their adult lives.
As to Simons’ reference to an “insidious international anti-vaccination movement” that “sees vaccines of all sorts as a Big Pharma plot,” I’ll say this: It’s not a plot, but the fact is that vaccines are business. Merck, as reported by CNN Money a few years ago, needed Gardasil to climb out of the financial hole left by Vioxx and the millions they’d been ordered to pay out in injury compensation. “We have high expectations for Gardasil,” Tim Anderson of Prudential Equity Group had written in an analyst’s note.
They had high expectations, and went to work. In a New York Times piece in August of 2009, Diane Harper had this to say about the influence of business interests: “Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politician, and went directly to the people—it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now.”
It appears, as Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine has put it, that the pharmaceutical industry has co-opted “every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”
So we have an exaggerated threat coming from those with vested interests, and we have a vaccine that offers limited protection and has been plagued by some significant rates of serious adverse events. Would this not make caution before jumping on board prudent?
As to the horrors of cancer that are so often trotted out, and were cited by Andre Corriveau, I know them. I’ve had cancer. But this vaccine is not the protection we’re led to believe it is. And when things do go wrong with a vaccine, the horrors too often match those of cancer. Dr. Scott Ratner told CBS his daughter was so ill with the autoimmune disease that came in the wake of her first Gardasil shot that she’d have been better off getting cervical cancer than the vaccine.
I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s becoming harder and harder to feel like the corporate media is doing the job it’s supposed to be doing.