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U.S. News and Commentary



Thursday
Mar212013

U.S. Government has paid out more than $5 million for claims against HPV vaccines

This 2006 photograph showed a nurse in the process of administering an intramuscular vaccination to an adolescent girl whose sister, mother, and grandmother watched from the background. The nurse chose the shoulder muscle of the girl’s left arm as the site of injection. (Caption by Judy Schmidt; Photo by James Gathany. Centers for Disease Control)Even if you agree that vaccines have saved millions of lives, it’s always a good idea to weigh risks for any procedure or substance affecting your child.

In 2007 I took issue with the push to give school children, at the time only girls, the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. I wrote several articles about the subject.

Judicial Watch raised concerns about the vaccine as well, culminating in the release of documents from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. JW said the government’s National Vaccine Injury Program has paid out $5,877,710 to 49 victims. Of that number, 47 were for injury and 2 were for the deaths of two people because of the vaccine.

My original concerns were based on a number of statements by medical officials as well as the fact the Food and Drug Administration fast tracked the vaccine. State legislatures began to push to make the vaccine mandatory. Other factors included the fact the U.S. didn’t have a high number of deaths from cervical cancer.

I believed the right approach involved targeting high risk populations with information enabling people to make their own decisions. Mandates are always based on a bean counter approach, in this case rationalizing the presumably low risks associated with the vaccine. It seemed logical to consider the population at risk rather than the whole population.

The Centers for Disease Control had information showing HPV was the most commonly transmitted sexual disease in the U.S., but there was additional information worth weighing.

In March, 2007, the CDC released a statement that included information about high risk groups. Black women experience cervical cancer incidence and mortality at a rate 1.5 times higher than white women. Death rates for black women were twice the rate for white women. Incidence for Hispanic women was higher than for white women. Certain Asian subgroups, especially Vietnamese and Korean women, have higher rates.

There’re geographic differences as well, with “notably higher incidence and mortality" in Southern states and Appalachia. Mortality rates are higher among Hispanic women living on the Texas-Mexico border; white women in Appalachia, rural New York State, and the northern part of the northeast United States, and among American Indians in the Northern Plains and Alaska Native women.

The CDC report also pointed out that a study among “newly sexually active college women demonstrated a protective effect of condoms on acquisition of genital HPV.” That effect was estimated as a 70% reduction in HPV infection, as long as the partner puts the condom on properly.

It seemed to me the oft-neglected condom provided a high level of protection and that information deserved attention.

The CDC continues to recommend the vaccine for girls as young as 9.

Merck, one manufacturer, said, “It is estimated that in 2007, there will be approximately 11,150 new cases of cervical cancer and 3,700 deaths in the United States.”

JW said that of the claims the government is processing, 92 “are still pending.” Five of those claims were based on deaths.

Judicial Watch had to file a lawsuit to get information. The HPV vaccine is not a national security issue. All such records should be transparent and available to the public.

When making a decision about any medication, it’s smart to always read the information your healthcare professional provides, including any side or adverse effects or risks. Not everyone fits into a bean counter model, especially when a new vaccine is fast tracked and there is not a long window on studies that had been done.

In 2011 the British publication The Annals of Medicine published an article about HPV vaccine policy. That journal said, “To date, the efficacy of HPV vaccines in preventing cervical cancer has not been demonstrated, while vaccine risks remain to be fully evaluated.” The journal also said that current worldwide HPV immunization practices weren’t justified, based on the evidence.

The U.S. Government subsidizes the vaccine for school children. States eagerly jumped on the federal funding.

The number of deaths and injuries from the vaccine are small compared to the number of people given the vaccine. However, when it’s your child suffering an adverse effect, numbers don’t ease the pain.

In 2007 concerns were expressed by experts.

The chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Abramson, said publicly he did not support mandating the vaccine for school attendance. He also said he and other members of the committee advised Merck, the vaccine manufacturer, to refrain from lobbying legislatures to make Gardasil mandatory for school girls.

Diane M. Harper, a professor and director at the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at Dartmouth, told the Daily (Ind.) News, where young girls are concerned, “there is not enough evidence gathered on side effects to know that safety is not an issue." She called it a “great big public health experiment.”

The CDC lists two HPV vaccines licensed by the FDA and recommended by CDC,  Cervarix (made by GlaxoSmithKline) and Gardasil (made by Merck).

(Filed by Kay B. Day/March 21, 2013)

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