What is Human Papillomavirus?
The National Cancer Institute defines the Human Papillomaviruses by dividing them into two different types of viruses. These include low-risk strains and high-risk strains. Out of the over 200 different strains of the virus that one could come in contact with, the majority fall into the category of low-risk. However, about twelve fall into the category of high-risk, which is a cancer causing strain of HPV. Typically, HPV causes warts and lumps to grow, which can be benign or malignant. The scariest part of HPV is that you never know what strain you may or may not have, and you’re more likely to get HPV than any other STI (sexually transmitted infection). Not only that, but a lot of the time the high-risk strains of HPV don’t present with any symptoms. The longer a high-risk HPV strain stays in your body, the greater your chance of developing one of these types of cancer:
- Cervical Cancer
- Anal Cancer
- Throat Cancer
This isn’t a fun topic to talk about, but in the world of college partying, drinking, and bad decisions, it’s important to know all the facts about how common (and devastating) this virus is. Basically, if you’re sexually active, you will most likely come in contact with some strain of HPV within your lifetime. So one would reason that it’s important to do everything to protect yourself against HPV, right?
What is the HPV Vaccine?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) put out an article for clinicians in which they give more numbers and information about the HPV vaccine. There are three different types of of the vaccine: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. It is recommended for girls and boys as early as age 11, up through the early twenties. They report that HPV infections in teens has gone down by 56% since 2006, which makes it seem like the drug is effective in doing what it is meant to do.
The CDC ensures that the drug is safe and effective. The listed side effects on the CDC website are:
- Pain and or redness at the site of injection
- Headache and tiredness
- Muscle or joint pain
They also list three different sources where patients and clinicians can report any problems that are seemingly related to the vaccine, one of them being VAERS. These sites serve to monitor drug use in order to keep the public safe.
So far my research has led me to believe the vaccine is safe. However, when I thought about what a vaccine does, it got me thinking. The vaccine is meant to mimic the virus so that the body can learn to fight it. That way when (if) the real virus was to present itself, the body would be prepared. If the vaccine is made from living things, could that also cause some sort of cancer if it was present in the body? However, since the vaccine is made of ONLY protein it won’t cause the the HPV which in turn causes cancer.
After feeling relieved at finding this information, I still felt skeptical of this vaccine on the grounds that I just couldn’t seem to find any substantial research against it. Finally, I ran into an article discussing The American College of Pediatricians research on the Gardasil vaccine. They report that this vaccine could be causing women (and girls) to experience somewhat of an early menopause. They go on to say that 213 cases have been reported to VAERS (the organization which I mentioned earlier) and that they have reason to believe that Gardasil is the culprit.
This is because of an ingredient called Polysorbate 80. This website linked me to their info on this particular part of the Gardasil vaccine, however I wanted to look elsewhere to make sure I could find more sources to confirm that Polysorbate 80 was causing problems with infertility.
I found a (presumably) blinded experiment by the National Toxicology Program that gave different levels of Polysorbate 80 to mice and rats for different durations. Although the studies couldn’t conclude that the chemical was directly causing cancer, there didn’t seem to be enough evidence to refute that some damage was being done. If the null hypothesis of this study was that Polysorbate 80 does nothing, then these scientists would have failed to reject the null in this case.
Today in class we discussed the file drawer issue in scientific research. Has this drugs testing process and research been subject to this issue? The HPV vaccine has been administered legally since 2006. My question is, what are the LONG TERM effects of these drugs? The children who received this drug originally will only be in their twenties or thirties at this point. When we were in class the other day discussing the effects of Thalidomide it made me think of the HPV vaccine because although the CDC assures us that it’s safe, and it has been “safety tested” by the FDA, does that mean that it will be safe in the long run? In the case of Thalidomide, the results were obvious when the mother’s gave birth. Cost benefit analysis comes into play. Are you willing to risk the possible dangers of this relatively new drug in the long run to help fight off cancer (which has been linked to certain strains of HPV that the vaccine fights)? Right now, it seems that there is not enough evidence to risk cancer but only time will tell.