Is the HPV vaccine necessary?

The risk of dying from cervical cancer might be much higher than experts previously thought, and women are encouraged to continue recommended cancer screenings.

HARTFORD — The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) were studied in clinical trials of tens of thousands of people. They didn’t find concerning adverse effects that occurred more commonly in the vaccine group than the placebo group.

The common side effects were arm pain, headache, nausea, dizziness, and passing out shortly after getting the vaccine. The CDC has a program called Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and after a vaccine is approved anyone hearing of an adverse event (doctor, sales representative, patient, nurse, or pharmacist) can report it to them.

They look at the number of events versus the number of vaccinations given to determine if the risk is greater than that seen in a population given other vaccines and also look to see if there is any pattern; like did they all occur in Asians, women, or did deaths all come from the same reason, like a heart attack. From 2006 to 2015, about 80 million doses of HPV vaccine had been given out in the United States. While there were deaths reported, the CDC reported the rate was not abnormally high and after careful review of each case where information was available, no pattern would lead to the conclusion that HPV vaccine caused the deaths.

The epidemiological evidence shows that 70 percent of women with cervical cancer have HPV chronic colonization. While limiting your number of partners and barrier contraception can lower the risk of HPV infection and pap smears can help diagnose it earlier; 13,000 women in the United States will develop cervical cancer this year and a third will die from it. HPV colonization can also cause anal cancer and throat cancer, but these cancers are rare and can cause genital and anal warts in 700,000 annually in men and women which won’t kill you but is unpleasant and painful.

Deciding whether or not to have your kids vaccinated against HPV is in effect playing the odds. Everyone needs to pay for the vaccine now, have the inconvenience of going to the doctor’s office two or three times, and get the arm pain and other mild side effects that follow. Not everyone will get HPV infection but 79 million will in their lifetime. Most people will clear their HPV on their own and not be at long-term risk. Unfortunately, some unlucky people will be chronically infected and then be at risk for all of these cancer types and genital warts.

 – Dr. Michael White from the UConn School of Pharmacy