HPV vaccine facts – refuting RFK Jr’s false and unscientific claims – Part 2

Recently,  I wrote a post about Robert F Kennedy Jr’s 25 false claims that stood against HPV vaccine facts and science – because that’s what the anti-vaccine crowd does well. 

As I mentioned, he has recently become a loudmouth anti-vaccine acolyte, who has been chastised by his own family for helping “to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.”

Because there were 25 lies in RFK Jr’s article, I just covered the first 12 in a previous post. Now I will take on the remaining 13 by reiterating HPV vaccine facts.

HPV vaccine facts
Robert F Kennedy Jr with his fellow science deniers, Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

Lie #13 – opposing HPV vaccine facts 

  1. The median age of cervical cancer death is 58 years. Gardasil targets millions of healthy preadolescents and teens for whom the risk of dying from cervical cancer is practically zero. Interventions for healthy people must have a risk profile that is also practically zero.

Once again, RFK Jr. shows his ignorance of science and healthcare, especially the treatment of cancer. Cancer isn’t turned on by an on/off switch, one of the many myths pushed by people ignorant of the disease.

HPV is linked to 43,000 cancers a year in the USA (with similar numbers in other regions of the world). HPV doesn’t cause HPV-related cancer to appear tomorrow – it could take decades. Prevention of HPV must happen BEFORE the teen has a chance to contract the virus.

Of all of the lies pushed by RFK Jr about the HPV vaccine, this may be the most idiotic. He is completely clueless about how cancer arises in humans. And he makes this ridiculous unscientific claim putting young women at risk of cancer. 

And one more thing – HPV is not just about cervical cancer in women. 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 both women and men:

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.

Apparently, RFK Jr has no understanding, comprehension, or knowledge of HPV vaccine facts. He should be embarrassed about writing these lies. But we know he isn’t.

HPV vaccine facts
Happily protected from HPV infections. Photo by Cristina Pop on Unsplash.

Lie #14

Annual deaths from cervical cancer in the U.S. are 2.3/100,000. The death rate in the Gardasil clinical trials was 85/100,000—or 37 times that of cervical cancer.

First of all, RFK Jr. has no clue about HPV and cancer again. Yes, the mortality rate from cervical cancer is low, he seems to believe that 2.3 deaths are not important. What?

I guess his entitled, privileged world thinks that that’s just too few deaths from cancer to be prevented by a safe vaccine. Moreover, he seems to not understand the psychological and economic harm from a cancer diagnosis, irrespective of death.

Second, he’s misusing statistics to further his goals to ignore HPV vaccine facts. Yes, the mortality rate is “only” 2.3 out of 100,000 population. But that’s not what matters. The critical point is that over 30% of women who contract cervical cancer die of it. Why would RFK Jr. ignore this fact?

Third, he’s misusing the mortality rate in Gardasil clinical trials. Every single one of those deaths in the clinical trials was not linked to the vaccine. Some of them were traffic accidents – and if you’re going to link traffic deaths to the HPV vaccine, I’m going to need some scientific data for that. 

This goes back to RFK Jr.’s utter lack of understanding of clinical trials. By regulation, every death of every patient in the clinical trial, whether linked to a vaccine or not, must be reported. On the other hand, reviews (pdf) of all of the clinical and epidemiological studies of the HPV vaccine have shown that there is no difference in serious adverse events, including death, between the study and control groups. 

RFK Jr can invent his own lies about Gardasil, but HPV vaccine facts are facts.

Lie #15

With 76 million children vaccinated at an average cost of $420 for the three-shot Gardasil series, the cost of saving one American life from cervical cancer amounts to about $18.3 million dollars. By contrast, the value of a human life according to the Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS’s) National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is $250,000—the maximum amount that the government program will award for a vaccine-related death.

This is a ridiculous comparison based on numbers that RFK jr. pulled out of thin air. He’s trying to create a strawman argument that the NVICP only values life at $250,000 from a “vaccine injury.” Although there is just no published, scientific evidence that any vaccine has been linked to any mortality event in the last 25 years, RFK Jr. wants us to believe that lives are worth so little compared to the cost of vaccines.

Furthermore, no child in the USA spends a penny on the HPV vaccine – by law, every American under the age of 18 is entitled to free HPV vaccines from their parent’s healthcare insurance, from Medicaid, or through the Vaccines for Children Program. Of course, the vaccine isn’t free for the US taxpayer, but individuals are encumbered by the cost of preventing dangerous cancers.

What he ignores is the massive cost of cervical cancer (again, it’s his entitled upbringing which seems to not afflict other members of the Kennedy clan). Each cancer case can cost from US$4,000 to 40,000 depending on how it must be treated. Moreover, this does not include the loss of income, loss of productivity, and psychological cost incurred with any cancer diagnosis.

Again, his privilege is showing.

Lie #16

According to Gardasil’s package insert, women are 100 times more likely to suffer a severe event following vaccination with Gardasil than they are to get cervical cancer.

Apparently, RFK Jr. lacks any understanding of how to read a package insert. Just because an adverse event is placed in the package insert, it does not mean that they are actually linked to the HPV vaccine. Package inserts are nearly useless except for a couple of key sections, and adverse events are not one of them.

And one more thing – powerful scientific research has, once again, shown no difference in adverse events between the vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. But that’s science, and RFK Jr must have flunked the class. 

HPV vaccine facts
Science. I hope RFK Jr learns some. Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Lie #17

The chances of getting an autoimmune disease from Gardasil, even if the vaccine works, are 1,000 times greater than the chances of being saved from a cervical cancer death.

No. A huge, 2 million patient study examined showed no difference in risk of autoimmune disorders between the HPV vaccine group and the general population. 

Lie #18

Women in Gardasil clinical trials with evidence of current HPV infection and previous exposure to HPV had a 44% increased risk of developing cervical lesions or cancer following vaccination.

Once again, no. In fact, large epidemiological studies have shown a reduction in precancerous cervical lesions in the vaccinated vs. unvaccinated groups. This over-reliance on tearing apart a package insert shows the laziness and scientific naïveté of RFK Jr.

Lie #19

Women who get the Gardasil vaccine as preteens or teens are more likely to skip cervical cancer screening as adults, mistakenly assuming that HPV vaccination is a replacement for screening and that the vaccine will eliminate all risk.

Somehow RFK Jr failed to read the article. First, the study involved an “underserved” population who may have limited access to healthcare services like cervical screening. 

Second, older recipients of the vaccine were highly motivated to get cervical cancer screening. The authors stated that “women vaccinated with three doses and screened at or after 21 years had the highest screening rate of 84% predicting a six-fold increase in screening participation over no vaccine received.”

This article did not state that the HPV vaccine is linked to skipping cervical cancer screening. It read more as an indictment of healthcare services for underprivileged women. Furthermore, let’s be clear about one thing – cervical cancer screening does not prevent cancer, but the HPV vaccine does.

Lie #20

Accumulating evidence points to Gardasil’s potentially severe adverse effects on fertility, including miscarriage and premature ovarian failure.

These claims are based on junk science written by a finance professor, Gayle DeLong. My favorite heavy metal headbanger, Orac, wrote about this article from DeLong. His pithy comments about her need to be quoted here:

We’ve met Gayle Delong before, first in 2011 when she published a paper that was the ecological fallacy writ large trying to show that vaccines cause autism. Then, a year later, she published an equally risible paper about “conflicts of interest” in vaccine science that was really an attack on the Vaccine Court. Then, in 2014, Delong blamed her breast cancer diagnosis on dealing with her child’s autism and made it clear that she viewed autism as worse than breast cancer. Another thing that you need to know about Gayle Delong is that she is not a scientist, physician, or epidemiologist

…None of that’s stopped her from bravely paddling up the river of pseudoscience in topics where she has no expertise.

She is a pseudoscience-loving quack, and her “article” did not include any original science, just a rambling set of opinions. As Orac wrote in another article about DeLong:

Now that we’ve established that Dr. DeLong’s article is a blatantly biased bit of antivaccine propaganda, I’ll finish with the difference between an antivaccinationist and a scientist. Regardless of DeLong’s affiliations, a real scientist will look at her arguments and determine if they hold water, which is what I tried to do right here in this very blog post. If they do, that scientist might be persuaded. DeLong’s arguments, not surprisingly, do not persuade.

And “premature ovarian failure” (actually premature ovarian insufficiency) is not linked to the HPV vaccine. This is real science compared to the three (yes, 3) person study which was written by the multi-retracted Lucija Tomljenovic and anti-vax crackpot Yehuda Shoenfeld to further their bias against the HPV vaccine.

HPV vaccine facts
Cancer surgery is better than preventing cancer according to the anti-vaxxers. Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

Lie #21

Merck never tested the vaccine for fertility effects. However, Gardasil and Gardasil 9 clinical trials showed high spontaneous miscarriage rates of 25% and 27.4%, respectively—significantly higher than the background rates of approximately 10%-15% in this reproductive age group.

Here we go again, misusing the package insert. The 25% and 27.4% miscarriage rates are directly from the package inserts for Gardasil – but RFK Jr conveniently ignores the next sentence, which showed the miscarriage rate is actually higher in the unvaccinated controls for the clinical studies, and then compares it to another study that has nothing to do with Gardasil.

One of the worst mistakes one can make in science is to use data from one experiment and compare it to data from a completely different study which has completely different methodologies. This is, once again, scientific amateur hour.

The facts are that in the clinical study used in the package insert, the miscarriage rate between the vaccine and unvaccinated groups was statistically the same. 

Lie #22

Polysorbate 80 and sodium borate (Borax) are associated with infertility in animals. Both are Gardasil ingredients, and both were present in the one clinical trial protocol that professed to use a benign saline placebo.

RFK Jr should study toxicology because he completely lacks understanding of the science. I guess that’s the same with all of his scientific knowledge, which is zero. 

Each HPV vaccine dose includes about 50 µg of polysorbate 80 and 35 µg of sodium borate. Just for the metric-ignorant (one of my pet peeves about American readers, but that’s another story), a microgram, or µg, is one-millionth of a gram. For you barbarians, a microgram equals 0.000000035 ounces. 

In toxicology, it’s the dose that makes the poison. Our world has literally trillions of chemicals, most of it in tiny levels. The dose matters – if it’s below some threshold, then it has no effect. And as we increase the dose, we notice a slowly increasing effect. These chemicals don’t work by some on/off switch, where a little bit is all it takes for a toxic effect. 

Polysorbate 80 is added to some vaccines to stabilize the solution. Without it, the solution could damage the antigen (in this case the HPV virus), making it less able to create an immune response. It is used in numerous aqueous drugs, like IV bags, in artificial tears for contact lens wearers, and in ice cream.

It has an outstanding safety profile at doses well above what is found in vaccines. A large toxicology study in rats (the only ethical way to do toxicology studies, in case you’re wondering), the largest dose of 50 gm (about 1,000,000X more than in vaccines) was mostly safe. 

As for sodium borate, it is used in vaccines to maintain the pH of the solution. Any significant rise or lowering of pH could destabilize the vaccine which will significantly reduce its efficacy. Going back to the dose makes the poison, the lethal dose of sodium borate is around 2.66 g/kg, or around 100 g for an average teen. That’s around 3 million times the dose in a vaccine.

I know that math and toxicology are difficult for RFK Jr, but trying to discount HPV vaccine facts with bovine fecal material is laughable.

Lie #23

In 2015, Denmark opened five new “HPV clinics” to treat children injured by Gardasil. Over 1300 cases flooded the clinics shortly after their opening.

This is what is called an anecdote, not science. Who cares how many went to these “clinics” to confirm their biases against the vaccine. By the way, huge epidemiological studies in Denmark have shown that the HPV vaccines are safe. That’s real science.

Lie #24

Since Gardasil came on the U.S. market in 2006, people have reported over 450 deaths and over 61,000 serious medical conditions from HPV vaccines to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Dumpster diving in the VAERS database, which cannot be used to establish causality between vaccines and anything, is not used by any serious epidemiologist or public health scientist as a method to determine if there are issues with vaccines. It can be used as “signal” for potential concerns, but then the signal has to be confirmed by either a clinical or epidemiological study. 

And guess what? We have a large number of huge clinical and epidemiological studies that have shown that there is no link between the HPV vaccine and “serious medical conditions.” HPV vaccine facts seem to indicate the vaccine is extraordinarily safe.

Lie #25

Merck lied to VAERS about the case of Christina Tarsell’s death, falsely claiming that her doctor blamed a virus instead of Gardasil.

I’m not sure how Merck “lied” to VAERS, which is just a database, but let’s discuss Christina Tarsell’s death. In an article written by Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss about the Tarsell case before the NVICP, the initial decision by the Special Master, which ruled against the plaintiffs, was overturned on appeal.

The final decision was based on flawed legal issues, completely ignoring the NVICP’s charter on how it is to handle causation. They also utilized a scientifically unsupported “hypothesis” from the aforementioned Shoenfeld that has no basis in either logic or science.

In essence, the decision was based on nearly biologically implausible assumptions within the decision. Because Merck has no responsibility or association with NVICP decisions, and because the decision lacked any scientific credibility, it doesn’t matter if Merck “lied” to VAERS. And they can’t lie to a database anyway.

As Professor Reiss wrote in her conclusion,

Ms. Tarsell lost her young daughter, which was a real tragedy. I don’t begrudge her compensation, but the decision in Tarsell III compensating her was clearly against the Special Master’s careful assessment of what the evidence showed in Tarsell I, was based on a very unconvincing theory of causation and drew on several legally problematic instructions imposed by Judge Williams in Tarsell II. This decision does not prove the contention that the HPV vaccines administered in this case contributed to Christina’s unfortunate death. If anything, the content of the Special Master’s decision in Tarsell III suggests just the opposite.

Summary of HPV vaccine facts

That’s it, that’s the last of the list of 25 lies from Robert F Kennedy Jr about the HPV vaccine. Every single point he made was refuted by HPV vaccine facts, something that is distressingly absent from his claims.

The HPV vaccine is demonstrably safe. That’s a fact.

The HPV vaccine prevents HPV infections. That’s a fact.

The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of HPV-related cancers. That’s a fact.

RFK Jr has shown callous disregard for the health of children and future adults. He has decided to lie about a cancer-preventing vaccine to encourage his sycophants and anti-vaccine zealots

All he wants to do is push fear, uncertainty, and doubt without any science or logic. But that’s what they all do.


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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!