HPV vaccine, autonomic dysfunction – another large study finds no links

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A recent large, comprehensive study provides evidence that there are no links between the HPV vaccine and autonomic dysfunction. Researchers keep looking for serious adverse events after individuals receive the HPV vaccine, and they keep finding nothing.

I know that I keep presenting new articles that establish the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccines – I bet it seems repetitive. But we need to keep making certain that everyone knows that the HPV vaccine is extremely safe, and it prevents cancer. 

Well, let’s take a quick look at this new study, so we can have it in our figurative back pocket when we here the newest anti-vaccine claim that the HPV vaccine and autonomic dysfunction is linked. It isn’t.

All about HPV and HPV vaccines

I know I add this section to every article I write about HPV vaccines. It is updated almost every time with additional information about HPV or the vaccine. Moreover, there are new readers who want to know more about HPV, and this section can help someone get up-to-speed quickly. If you’ve read this section 47 times, just skip down to the next section where I discuss the key point of this article. 

Genital and oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA.  HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

It’s important to note that there are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans – however, only 40 of these strains are linked to one or more different cancers. Of those 40 strain, most are fairly rare.

Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious and many HPV infections resolve themselves without long-term harm, HPV infections are causally 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:

In addition, there is some evidence that HPV infections are causally linked to skin and prostate cancers. The link to skin cancer is still preliminary, but there is much stronger evidence that HPV is linked to many prostate cancers.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco in that respect. 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. The CDC also states that over 43,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year. It may be several times that amount worldwide.

There were two HPV vaccines on the world market before 2014. GSK, also known as GlaxoSmithKline, produced Cervarix, a bivalent (protects against two HPV strains) vaccine. It has been withdrawn from the US market (although available in many other markets), because of the competition from the quadrivalent (immunizes against four different HPV strains) and 9-valent (against nine HPV strains) Gardasil vaccines.

Merck manufactures Gardasil, probably the most popular HPV vaccine in the world. The first version of the vaccine, quadrivalent Gardasil, targets the two HPV genotypes known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two other HPV genotypes that cause genital warts. In Europe and other markets, Gardasil is known as Silgard.

The newer Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA in 2014, is a 9-valent vaccine, protecting against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. It targets the four HPV strains found in the quadrivalent version, along with five additional ones that are linked to cervical and other HPV-related cancers. Both versions of Gardasil are prophylactic, meant to be given to females or males before they become exposed to possible HPV infection through intimate contact.

Gardasil is one of the easiest and best ways to prevent a few dangerous and, to abuse the definition slightly, common cancers that afflict men and women. Without a doubt, the HPV vaccine prevents cancer.

Currently, in the United States, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that preteen girls and boys aged 11 or 12 are vaccinated against HPV. The immunization is also recommended for teenage girls and young women up to the age of 26 who did not receive it when they were younger, and teenage boys and young men up to the age of 21.

Let me sum this all up so that if you come away from this section with nothing else, you get this summary. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. HPV causes 43,000 cancers a year in the USA alone. The HPV vaccine prevents becoming infected by HPV, which means you are protected from these cancers.

Autonomic dysfunction

Just to demystify some of the science in the article that is going to be discussed, I need to spend a moment describing what the researchers were examining as an endpoint. Autonomic dysfunction, or dysautonomia, is a rather broad term that describes conditions in which the autonomic nervous system (ANS) does not work properly. This dysfunction may affect the functioning of a number of systems including the heart, bladder, sweat glands, intestines, and many others. 

It has been claimed without evidence by many anti-vaccine zealots, like Yehuda Shoenfeld, that certain autonomic dysfunctions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), complex regional pain syndrome (CPRS), and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), are related to the HPV vaccines. 

I’ve debunked any links between the HPV vaccine and POTS, along with the vaccine and CPRS, in the past. Because of these nonsense claims from the anti-vaccine crowd, researchers continue to examine claims of links between the HPV vaccine and autonomic dysfunction – and they continue to find nothing.

HPV vaccine and autonomic dysfunction paper

In a paper published, September 2020, by Anders Hviid et al. in theBMJ, the researchers wanted to “evaluate the association between quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccination and syndromes with autonomic dysfunction, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.”

The researchers examined 869 patients with autonomic dysfunction syndromes from a cohort of 1.38 million Danish-born females who were aged 10 to 44 years during 2007-16. Of those 869, 136 were diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, 535 with complex regional pain syndrome, and 198 with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. This is one of the largest studies examining links between the HPV vaccine and autonomic dysfunction.

What did the researchers find?

  • The HPV vaccine did not statistically increase the risk of all autonomic dysfunction syndromes within 365 days following vaccination. The risk of all syndromes was about 0.99 or nearly the same as non-vaccinated individuals. 
  • Various time periods post-vaccination did not indicate that there was an increased risk of all syndromes after HPV vaccination.
  • The risk of CFS was 0.38 compared to non-vaccinated – in other words, there was actually a much lower risk of CFS in vaccinated individuals.
  • The risk of POTS was 0.86 compared to non-vaccinated.
  • The risk of CPRS was 1.31 compared to non-vaccinated, which means there was an increased risk of CPRS in the vaccinated group. However, it appears that CPRS post-vaccination is observed with other vaccines as a result of needle trauma. Furthermore, other studies, such as a large Finnish study, have established that the HPV vaccine is actually linked to a lower risk of CPRS. 

The authors concluded:

…our study does not support a causal association between quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccination and chronic fatigue syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, either individually or as a composite outcome.

It’s amusing that so-called research from anti-vaccine activists, like Shoenfeld, do not actually do clinical or epidemiological research. It’s always based on anecdotes or case studies, not well-controlled scientific research. Shoenfeld likes to say that the HPV vaccine is linked to autonomic dysfunction, but he’s never presented robust evidence to support those claims.

On the other hand, there are numerous published scientific studies that don’t show any link at all. Like this one.

Get the HPV vaccine – it can prevent cancer.

Citations



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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!