Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis is not linked to the HPV vaccine

acute disseminated encephalomyelitis

A recent case report about a death of a 15-year-old boy from a form of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) after receiving the quadrivalent HPV vaccine has been widely shared by anti-vaccine groups. Of course, I wanted to look into any potential link between ADEM and the HPV vaccine.

Before I start looking at the evidence, I must point out that case reports have little meaning in the hierarchy of vaccine research. To be honest, case reports, even if they’re published in high-quality journals, barely rise above anecdotes as evidence. Why? They are nothing more than a report without being able to establish causality. But most importantly, they represent an n=1 research population, which tells us little. And it doesn’t show correlation, let alone causation.

We’ve also discussed ADEM before – the tragic story of Christopher Bunch whose mother blamed the HPV vaccine for causing his ADEM.

Setting that aside, is there any evidence that shows any link (or lack of a link) between acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and the HPV vaccine? Let’s take a look at this evidence.

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Did Japan ban Gardasil? No, but the anti-vaccine crowd loves the trope

Japan Banned Gardasil

One of the most popular zombie memes and tropes of the anti-vaccine movement is that Japan banned Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. And like most of those zombie memes and tropes, the facts are a lot different than the anti-vaccine claims. Shocking, I know.

Although I don’t quite understand the reasoning, the anti-vaccine world absolutely hates Gardasil, possibly more than any other vaccine other than COVID-19 vaccines (of course). These zealots maintain that the HPV vaccines cause all kinds of harm to teens and young adults. Yet, there are literally mountains of data derived from numerous huge epidemiological studies that the Gardasil cancer-preventing vaccine is one of the safest vaccines on the market.

So if you really want to prevent cancer, one of the best ways available to you is getting the HPV vaccine. The idea is so simple, yet is clouded by the myths about HPV vaccines – one of the most popular, of course, is that Japan banned Gardasil. Let’s examine this fable with a critical and skeptical eye.

Spoiler alert – Japan did no such thing.

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Gardasil researcher Diane Harper is pro-HPV vaccine – shocking, right?

Gardasil researcher diane harper

Anti-vaxxers love their false authorities, so they invoke Gardasil researcher Diane Harper, MD as the authority of choice with regard to HPV vaccines. Obukhanych is truly a false authority, but Dr. Harper is much more complicated. She actually is an authority for HPV vaccines, but not in the way that the anti-vaccine world would like you to believe.

Because vaccine deniers lack any scientific evidence supporting their unfounded beliefs about vaccines, they tend to rely upon unscientific information like anecdotes, logical fallacies, misinterpretation of data, or false authorities to support their case about the lack of safety of vaccines.

The so-called “lead Gardasil researcher,” Diane Harper, a former “consultant” to Merck and GSK, had some responsibilities in the clinical trials for their HPV vaccines. But the claims about whether Dr. Harper supports or dislikes those vaccines are substantially more complicated than what the anti-vaccine zealots would like to claim about her.

Amusingly, every few months the social media haunts of the anti-vaccine crowd explode with claims that Dr. Diane Harper, lead Gardasil researcher, hates HPV vaccines.

Let’s take a look at the story and see what we find.

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Study finds no link between HPV vaccine and primary ovarian insufficiency

primary ovarian insufficiency HPV

One of the numerous tropes about the HPV vaccine was that it causes primary ovarian insufficiency, also known as premature ovarian failure, which happens when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before she is 40.

Of course, there has been little affirmative evidence of primary ovarian insufficiency being related to the HPV vaccine, aside from anecdotes, but that never stops anti-vaxxers from pushing that false narrative.

Now, we have another large epidemiological study that shows, once again, that there is no link between the HPV vaccine and primary ovarian insufficiency. And, of course, the ancient feathered dinosaur is here to review that article so that you can debunk these claims whenever they show up.

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The tragic story of Christopher Bunch – HPV vaccine is not the cause

This article about the tragic story of Christopher Bunch was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

On 14 August 2018, fourteen-year-old Christopher Bunch died from acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), leaving his loving, devoted family reeling. The family blamed his death on the HPV vaccine that Christopher received, and they were quickly surrounded and courted by anti-vaccine activists.

My heart goes out to Christopher’s family. I followed the case since he was in the hospital, hoping and praying with them for a good outcome, and I feel their heartbreak. I was also deeply impressed by their initial reaction, which was to create a positive legacy for Christopher, making him visible and famous.

I would rather not write about this, which is why this post is so long after the fact. But Christopher’s death is since being used to try and scare people away from HPV vaccines or vaccines generally, putting others at risk of cancer and death. With very little basis: the timing and the epidemiological evidence do not support a link between Christopher’s death and HPV vaccines. Christopher Bunch deserves a better legacy than that.

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CDC vaccine patents – Robert F Kennedy Jr gets this one wrong too

CDC vaccine patents

If you follow the anti-vaccine world, you will hear Robert F Kennedy Jr often claim that there are CDC vaccine patents that are so valuable that the CDC itself sets aside all morality and ethics to endorse the vaccines developed through these patents just to make more money for the CDC.

Kennedy, who once threw himself at Donald Trump in an effort to head a Vaccine Commission, has made this claim for several years now, but repeated it in an interview, stating that, “the CDC is a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical industry. The agency owns more than 20 vaccine patents and purchases and sells $4.1 billion in vaccines annually.”

Typically, Kennedy provides absolutely nothing in the form of supporting evidence. It makes no sense to argue against an imaginary claim – this is a pretty good example of an opinion rather than facts.

But along comes Ginger Taylor, one of the most ardent and science-ignoring anti-vaccine activists around these parts. In fact, she inspired my article entitled, Vaccines and autism science say they are unrelated

Taylor, who apparently has an autistic child, believes that vaccines “damaged” her child because, as a mother, she knows more than actual scientists. She considers science to be an elitist pursuit, it’s not data and evidence that matter but only her opinion.

Seriously, Taylor has an utter lack of self-awareness, which apparently broke one of Orac’s favorite Big Pharma Irony Meters™. Her opinion of her own scientific knowledge, i.e. her Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias, is betrayed by the reality of the vast mountain of scientific knowledge supporting the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

So this same Ginger, the vaccine-denier that she is, decided to write an article with another torturous description of the CDC vaccine patents conspiracy theory, trying to support Kennedy’s outlandish claims. And she wrote this article in GreenMedInfo, one of the most ignorant anti-science websites on the interwebs, just a bit below NaturalNews in quality.

The problems with Taylor’s article are multi-fold – but generally, like so many other anti-vaccine zealots, they think they know a lot about a topic based on their 15 minutes of Google search time, rather than doing the tens of thousands of hours of actual vaccine research using science.

Taylor is utterly uneducated about and inexperienced with not only science but also patents – she gets nearly everything about her conspiracy theory totally wrong. 

So here we go, debunking the anti-vaccine myth of the CDC vaccine patents.

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Vaccine safety – a huge systematic review says they don’t cause autism

vaccine safety

Not that most of us need to be convinced, but there’s another huge systematic review that examined vaccine safety. Unsurprisingly, it shows that there are no major safety signals post-vaccination, plus no vaccine is linked to autism.

It’s ironic that this study is a high-quality systematic review and meta-analysis, the top of the hierarchy of biomedical research, while anti-vaxxers rely upon retracted articles published in predatory journals.

So, I want to do a quick review of this new article so that we can continue to support the settled science of vaccine safety.

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Why can’t we get a cancer vaccine as fast as one for COVID-19?

cancer vaccine

I keep reading memes and other nonsense that if scientists are so smart why can’t we have a cancer vaccine as fast as we did for COVID-19? It’s not a serious question, it’s actually pejorative – it’s meant to imply that we’ve been looking for years for a cancer vaccine without success, yet we were able to get a COVID-19 vaccine within a few months, so obviously it was rushed.

Fortunately for us on the side of science, this is one of the silliest and most desperate myths being pushed by our favorite anti-vaxxers.

Busting cancer myths is one of my favorite activities – my non-statistical analysis of medical pseudoscience puts cancer slightly above vaccines on the stupidity of the tropes. Combining vaccine nonsense with cancer is right up my bailiwick. Let’s have some tearing apart this trope.

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Annoying cancer myths – more zombie memes that can’t be stopped

Anyone who follows the cantankerous feathered dinosaur knows that we tend to focus on vaccines, where the anti-vaccine religion focuses on tropes, pseudoscience, misinformation, and outright lies. Cancer myths seem to steal from the anti-vaccine playbook by pushing similar tropes, pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies.

I keep responding to these cancer myths all across the internet, so I thought that it might be useful to list out my favorite ones. No, it would take 50,000 words to debunk all of these cancer myths. For example, the Burzynski Clinic quackery is best handled by a real cancer specialist, David Gorski, MD, who has written well over 100 articles critiquing the Burzynski pseudoscience. So I’m going to stick with my personal favorites.

So, let’s take a look at these cancer myths, and I’ll do my best to debunk them.

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43,000 HPV-associated cancers annually – HPV vaccine can prevent most

HPV-associated cancers

As I’ve written before, there are just a handful of ways to reduce your risk of cancer. One of which is to prevent HPV-associated cancers with the HPV vaccine (see Note 1).

Too many people who discuss the HPV vaccine, especially among the anti-vaccine religion, tend to focus on HPV-related cervical cancer. But HPV is linked to several dangerous and deadly cancers, and a new report examines the details of those cancers. 

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