The link between HPV vaccine and autoimmune diseases is one of the enduring myths about Gardasil. It is regularly debunked by scientists in large scale case control studies, but that never appears to be enough to silence the critics.
For example, the so-called autoimmune syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA) pushed by an Israeli physician, Yehuda Shoenfeld remains a trope that pervades the anti-Gardasil community. Shoenfeld claims that the HPV vaccine is causally linked to various autoimmune syndromes. However, ASIA is not accepted by the scientific and medical community (and see this published article), and was rejected by the United States vaccine court. It should not be used by parents as a reason to reject the HPV vaccine..
Large studies (and this large study) continue to reject links between the HPV vaccine and autoimmune diseases. Now, we’re going to take a look at a recently published article that continues to reject any link.
All about HPV and the vaccine
I know, I’ve written about this vaccine over 100 times – however, this might be your first bit of research into the 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 human papillomavirus (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 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. GSK, also known as Glaxo SmithKline manufactured Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine which has been withdrawn from the US market. Merck manufactures Gardasil9, a 9-valent vaccine, along with Gardasil, a quadrivalent HPV vaccine.
HPV vaccine and autoimmune diseases – the study
According to a recent study published in the journal Vaccine, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines do not increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases (AID) in a huge cohort of over 2.2 million young girls in France. This is more conclusive evidence that there is no link between the HPV vaccine and autoimmune diseases.
So what did the study tell us?
Fourteen neurological, rheumatological, haematological, gastrointestinal or endocrine autoimmune diseases (AID) were observed in a population of 2.25 million girls in France. They compared the risk of each AID in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated groups.
The researchers observed no difference in risks for the following AIDs after HPV vaccination:
- Demyelinating diseases of the CNS (such as multiple sclerosis).
- Cutaneous or systemic lupus erythematosus
- Localized or systemic scleroderma
- Rheumatoid arthritis or juvenile arthritis
- Myositis or Polymyositis or Dermatomyositis
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura
- Coeliac disease
- Type 1 diabetes
Essentially, the researchers found no difference in risk of those autoimmune diseases between HPV-vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.
Of course, 2 AIDs did show a small increase in HPV vaccinated groups. The first, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a group of inflammatory autoimmune conditions of the colon and small intestine. However, because of the length of time required to diagnose IBD and because IBD patients have more contact with the healthcare system (and may have a higher rate of HPV vaccination), the authors stated that, “our results do not support a causal association between HPV vaccination and IBD.”
The other AID which showed a small increase was Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by an autoimmune reaction that damages the peripheral nervous system. It is a serious AID which can be debilitating with difficult recovery especially in adults over the age of 40.
GBS is extremely rare – the incidence is approximately 0.89 to 1.89 per 100,000 individuals. In this study, the researchers may have shown a 1-2 per 100,000 individual increase in the risk of GBS in vaccinated groups.
However, there are several limitations to this study. First, they were unable to show whether H1N1 vaccine, a known contributor to GBS, was a confounder. The authors indicated it probably wasn’t based on other research, but they could not eliminate it.
Second, because of the extremely small numbers of GBS patients, it is possible that random chance causing the observation.
Finally, the researchers were unable to show any causality between GBS and HPV vaccination.
Although GBS is a serious autoimmune condition, it is difficult to place blame for it on vaccinations. In fact, most research points to infectious diseases which stimulate the autoimmune dysfunction. Further, a study of 1 million girls in Denmark and Sweden, along with a long-term clinical trial of the HPV vaccine, have provided no conclusive evidence that the HPV vaccine is linked to GBS.
Nevertheless, if future research shows that the HPV vaccine is indeed causal to GBS, the benefits of preventing cancer from HPV far outweighs the tiny increase in risk of GBS.
Summary – HPV vaccine and autoimmune diseases
Once again, we have a large, robust study that shows no link between the HPV vaccine and a large number of different autoimmune diseases. This contrasts with the claims of anti-vaccine promoters like Yehuda Schoenfeld.
This study also seems to indicate a potential causal link between Guillain–Barré syndrome, a relatively serious autoimmune disease. However, these results are in contradiction with other large clinical trials and case-control studies. In addition, the risk of GBS is so small that the benefits of cancer prevention may far outweigh the potential risk.
Gardasil prevents cancer. That far outweighs non-existent or minor, unconfirmed risks.
- Arnheim-Dahlström L, Pasternak B, Svanström H, Sparén P, Hviid A. Autoimmune, neurological, and venous thromboembolic adverse events after immunisation of adolescent girls with quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine in Denmark and Sweden: cohort study. BMJ 2013 Oct;347:f5906 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f5906.
- Ferris D, Samakoses R, Block SL, Lazcano-Ponce E, Restrepo JA, Reisinger KS, Mehlsen J, Chatterjee A, Iversen O-E, Sings HL, Shou Q, Sausser TA, Saah A. Long-term Study of a Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine. Pediatrics. 18 August 2014. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-4144.
- Miranda S, Chaignot C, Collin C, Dray-Spira R, Weill A, Zureik M. Human papillomavirus vaccination and risk of autoimmune diseases: A large cohort study of over 2 million young girls in France. Vaccine. 2017 Jul 24. pii: S0264-410X(17)30807-1. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.06.030. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28750853.