HPV vaccine myths and tropes – all the debunkings and refutations

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Recently, I wrote about the overwhelming evidence regarding Gardasil’s safety and effectiveness. Unfortunately, that will never stop the HPV vaccine myths from becoming a thing.

I’ve ripped through the nearly 200 articles on the HPV vaccine I have written to put together some of the best debunkings and refutations of HPV vaccine myths and tropes pushed by our anti-vaccine friends. 

So here we go.

All about HPV and HPV vaccines

I know I cutting and pasting this section to every article I write about HPV vaccines.

However, I try to update this section when necessary with new information about either the disease 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.

HPV vaccine myths

HPV vaccine myths – Japan 

One of the most pernicious HPV vaccine myths is “Japan bans Gardasil.” Let me be clear – Japan did not ban the HPV vaccine, they just quit recommending it using the worst possible statistical methodology that I’ve ever seen by a public health ministry.

Anyone who makes up this trope doesn’t know what they’re talking about with regards to Japan and HPV vaccines. 

HPV vaccine myths – Diane Harper

Dr. Diane Harper, MD, has been described as a “lead Gardasil researcher” who is against the HPV vaccine. In the articles listed below, I kind of debunk both HPV vaccine myths – she was not the lead researcher, and she’s actually not opposed to the HPV vaccine. 

Actually, she continues to publish about the successes of the HPV vaccine, and now strongly supports the vaccine in her current role at the University of Michigan. 

HPV vaccine myths – promiscuity

This particular HPV vaccine myth keeps showing up on Twitter and other anti-vaccine social media. Again, there is absolutely no evidence anywhere that Gardasil causes your children or yourself to be more promiscuous. None. Zero. Nada. It is just more anti-vaccine Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

HPV vaccine myths – bad anti-vaccine “research”

Anti-vaxxers love to do “research” that tries to prove that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. Much of the research is either retracted or published in predatory journals that have no standards other than paying them money to publish. Anti-vaxxers try to use this fake research to bolster their claims, but large, high-quality, peer-reviewed articles about HPV vaccine safety contradict this pseudoscience.

This undated image provided by Merck on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 shows a vial and packaging for the Gardasil 9 vaccine. On Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the use of the company’s cervical cancer vaccine to adults up to age 45. (Merck via AP)

HPV vaccine myths – Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has become one of the most ardent anti-vaxxers around, even genuflecting before Donald Trump to become some sort of vaccine czar. His family is angry at him because of his anti-science beliefs regarding vaccines. And he keeps pushing a false narrative about CDC vaccine patents. 

And he has tried to take on the HPV vaccine, but he’s just wrong. We take down his false claims, misinformation, and outright lies about the HPV vaccine – Part 1 and Part 2

RFK Jr should not be your primary source on any vaccine, but especially Gardasil.

Summary

Of course, I’ve written many more articles debunking ridiculous HPV vaccine myths. Like the HPV vaccine and aluminum. Or Yehuda Shoenfeld’s HPV vaccine causing ASIA (autoimmune syndrome induced by adjuvants). Or the terrible case report study, of no scientific or statistical value, claims that the HPV vaccine causes Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), except they didn’t even diagnose it

But when it gets down to it, large, well-designed, transparent studies published in respected journals have shown us over and over that the HPV vaccine is both very safe and very effective. That’s settled science



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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!