Many of us on the science side of the vaccine debate (it’s not a debate) think that of all vaccines, the one that’s most hated by the anti-vaccine radicals is the HPV cancer preventing vaccine. In fact, since this cancer preventing vaccine was launched after the anti-vaccine movement was really pushing their pseudoscientific narrative, it was subject to much more scrutiny in research studies and from pharmaceutical regulatory bodies. And as a result, it’s probably, by far, the safest vaccine amongst all of the other safe vaccines.
There are numerous large (meaning patient populations of over 100,000) safety studies of the HPV vaccines, which have shown us that there really are no significant adverse events related to HPV vaccines. Yes, there are typical ones, like fainting and localized pain, but nothing serious. Certainly, nothing that is even close to what the anti-vaccine people claim.
Well, another study, that included over 3 million patients, provides us with more robust evidence that the HPV cancer preventing vaccine is demonstrably safe.
All about HPV and the cancer preventing vaccine
I know, I’ve written about this vaccine 100 times, so you’ve read these paragraphs enough to quote them without looking. Actually, I change it up with new information frequently.
However, for some of you, this might be your first bit of research into the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, so it’s important to get a brief overview of HPV and the vaccines. If you’ve read this before, just skip to the next section if you want.
Genital and oral HPV are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA. There are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans, although only 40 of these strains are linked to a variety of cancers. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious, those infections are closely linked to many types of cancers in men and women. According to current medical research, here are some of the cancers that are linked to HPV:
These are all dangerous and disfiguring cancers that can be mostly prevented by the HPV cancer vaccine. If you’re a male, and you think that these are mostly female cancers, penile cancer can lead to amputation of your penis. Just think about that guys.
HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco with respect to cancer. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract a new HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. About 27,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year.
There were two HPV vaccines on the market before 2014. GSK, also known as GlaxoSmithKline manufactured Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine, but it has been withdrawn from the US market, because of the competition from the other HPV vaccines. In Europe and other markets, Gardasil is known as Silgard.
Merck manufactures the other HPV vaccines. Its first vaccine, the quadrivalent Gardasil, targets the two HPV genotypes known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two other HPV genotypes that cause genital warts. The newer Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA in 2014, is a 9-valent vaccine. It targets the four HPV genotypes in the quadrivalent version, along with five additional ones that are linked to cervical and other types of cancer. Both versions of Gardasil are prophylactic, meant to be given before females or males become exposed to possible HPV infection through intimate contact.
The cancer preventing vaccine study
A recent study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine by Hviid et al., examined the risk of autoimmune diseases and neurological disorders in 3,126,790 women, comparing those who received the HPV cancer preventing vaccine and those who did not.
The researchers, who used Danish and Swedish hospital data to track the incidence of 44 different illnesses over 10 years, found no “serious safety concerns” for women who had received the HPV vaccine to prevent future cancers. Diseases or conditions studied in the new analysis included epilepsy, paralysis, lupus, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid issues and Crohn’s disease, and many others. Some of these autoimmune and neurological conditions are part of the tropes that the anti-vaccine world has made about Gardasil and other HPV vaccines’ adverse effects.
To be completely open, the study found slightly higher risks for celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that afflicts the small intestine, amongst women who received the HPV vaccine. Curiously, this observation was only seen in Denmark. The authors explained that celiac disease is “markedly under diagnosed” in Denmark, so those who get vaccinated, thereby visiting a healthcare professional, may have a better opportunity of being diagnosed.
Since a genetic predisposition to celiac disease must be present, it is biologically implausible that the HPV vaccine is related to the condition.
In the graphic above, you can see 44 different autoimmune and neurological conditions examined by the study. This is a crude incidence rate, and does not give us any statistical significance, but a brief examination shows us that the difference between the vaccinated and unvaccinated population for these conditions is small. And in many cases, the unvaccinated population has a higher (though not statistically important) incidence.
Another important point to be made – this is the ethical way to compare a vaccinated and unvaccinated population. It is completely unethical, and would never be approved by an institutional review board, to perform a double blind study that would intentionally allow the placebo group to be exposed to these diseases. This type of observational study, a cohort study, allows the researchers to compare a vaccinated vs. unvaccinated population ethically.
The authors concluded that:
Unmasking of conditions at vaccination visits is a plausible explanation for the increased risk associated with qHPV in this study because coeliac disease is underdiagnosed in Scandinavian populations. In conclusion, our study of serious adverse event rates in qHPV-vaccinated and qHPV-unvaccinated adult women 18-44 years of age did not raise any safety issues of concern.
Here is another huge study, which included over 3 million women, that show us that there are no additional risks for autoimmune or neurological disorders after receiving the HPV cancer preventing vaccine, Gardasil. None.
This study adds to the body of evidence that refute the various claims made by the anti-vaccine world about the HPV vaccine. Parents need to vaccinate their children with this vaccine. And if you’re a young adult, you should march yourself down to your physician and get it for yourself.
The vaccine prevents cancer. There are precious few ways to prevent cancer, but this is one of your best choices.
- Hviid A, Svanström H, Scheller NM, Grönlund O, Pasternak B, Arnheim-Dahlström L. Human papillomavirus vaccination of adult women and risk of autoimmune and neurological diseases. J Intern Med. 2017 Oct 18. doi: 10.1111/joim.12694. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29044769.