HPV Vaccine: The Science Behind The Controversy : NPR
More on the controversial policy of mandated HPV vaccination. So far two states have made these vaccines required for per-adolescent girls, while others states debate on whether to mandate them as well.
You can read more about this issue here.
A Lobbying Effort From Manufacturers
But Dr. Diane Harper, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, says the vaccine is being way oversold.
That’s pretty striking, because Harper worked on studies that got the vaccines approved. And she has accepted grants from the manufacturers, although she says she doesn’t any longer.
Harper changed her mind when the vaccine makers started lobbying state legislatures to require schoolkids to get vaccinated.
“Ninety-five percent of women who are infected with HPV never, ever get cervical cancer,” she says. “It seemed very odd to be mandating something for which 95 percent of infections never amount to anything.”
By Harper’s calculations, the tried-and-true method of regular Pap smears is a more effective way to prevent cervical cancer than the vaccines. “Pap smear screening is far and away the biggest thing a woman can do to protect herself, to prevent cervical cancer,” she says.
Of course, cervical exams and Pap smears are not universally done, they’re invasive, and when the test comes up abnormal, the woman faces further diagnostic tests and possibly a procedure to obliterate precancerous growths.
Apart from the comparative advantages of vaccine versus Pap smears, Harper has another objection to mandating early vaccination at this point. She points out that studies so far show the vaccines protect for four or five years. Scientists hope protection will last for 10 years or more, but it’s possible young women may need a booster shot later.
As it stands now, Harper says, vaccinating an 11-year-old girl might not protect her when she needs it most — in her most sexually active years.
A Dangerous Vaccine?
There’s another reason parents balk. Some worry that the vaccine could be dangerous.
Two children have died of a rare neurological disorder — an early and accelerated form of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease — after getting the vaccine.
Last month, the independent Institute of Medicine found no good evidence that these deaths, or any other serious side effects, were caused by the vaccine.
The CDC has examined 35 deaths that occurred among 35 million young people who received the vaccine. It also concluded there is no evidence of cause and effect.
“We have not identified a significant likelihood of serious adverse events following vaccine,” says Dr. Joseph Bocchini, chairman of pediatrics at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, who leads the CDC’s working group on HPV vaccines. “This is a very safe vaccine.”