HPV vaccine propaganda – anti-vaxxers get it all wrong again

Although I don’t have official evidence, I think that anti-HPV vaccine propaganda is a special subset of the anti-vaccine disinformation effort. I think that the most outrageous claims about vaccines are often made about HPV anti-cancer vaccine.

But the anti-HPV vaccine propaganda hit a whole new high (no, wait, it’s a low) when an anti-vaccine group on Facebook produced what they claim is an “accurate” HPV vaccine commercial.

I couldn’t let this disinformation about a cancer prevention vaccine pass. So here we go.

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:

(All data is for the USA only.)

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 three 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 GSK, also known as Glaxo SmithKline manufactured Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine which has been withdrawn from the US market.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.

The anti-HPV vaccine propaganda commercial

The video was posted by the pseudoscience-pushing group, Alliance for Natural Health USA (ANHUSA). Though they haven’t been on my radar very much, they are anti-vaccine in general. And they seem to have a special dislike for Gardasil.

The video is filled with outrageous statements, misinformation, and, dare I say, outright lies. Of course, anyone familiar with the anti-vaccine world would “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Starting right at the beginning, the anti-HPV vaccine propaganda video claims that the vaccine only helps 12 out of 100,000 women. Since the video gives us no clue where they found this arbitrary number, I have to take a guess as to where they got that number, other than pulling them magically out of thin air.

The American Cancer society provides the following data, taken from National Cancer Institute (NCI) surveillance:

  • About 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed.
  • About 4,210 women will die from cervical cancer.

I’m guessing that the number used by ANHUSA is the new cases. But that actually didn’t calculate the number right, since about 70% of cervical cancer cases are HPV-related. And remember, the quadrivalent Gardasil immunizes against type 16 and 18 HPV, which are responsible for cervical cancer. And the new Gardasil9 immunizes against 90% of HPV infections that are responsible for many other cancers.

But here’s the point I don’t get about anti-vaccine radicals – the HPV vaccine may prevent almost all of those HPV-related cervical cancers, yet they want to dismiss those 10,000 women who get the cancer. Or 3,000 who might die of HPV-related cervical cancer.

And there’s more. Gardasil doesn’t just prevent HPV related cervical cancer. It also prevents numerous other cancers in both men and women.

  • There are over 8,200 new anal cancer cases every year, along with over 1,100 deaths. Over 95% of anal cancers are caused by HPV.
  • There are over 49,000 new oropharyngeal cancer cases every year, along with over 9,700 deaths. Around 70% of these cancers are caused by HPV.

And there are several other, more rare, cancers that are HPV related. In fact, Gardasil may help 4 or 5 times more women than the “12 out of 100,000” this video claims. That’s saving the lives of 10 to 12 thousand men and women every single year. That’s also preventing all of that suffering of the patients and their families. That’s also reducing the cost of treating those cancers.

How cold it is for ANHUSA to make some claim that only 12 out of 100,000 women are helped, and that’s arbitrarily too low. That’s horrendous, almost immoral thinking on their part.

The anti-HPV vaccine propaganda – VAERS dumpster diving

The next point this video tries to make is that Gardasil is somehow dangerous. They claim that risk of serious harm, including death, is 3.34 per 100,000 women. Once again, I have no clue how they fabricated that number out of the ether.

Oh wait, they used VAERS. Here we go again.

Vaccine deniers, especially in the USA, use passive data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a system where individuals can report supposed adverse events post-vaccination, to “prove” certain adverse events. The reports can be made online, by fax or by mail. However, there are no investigations to show any type of causality between the vaccination event and the claimed events that are reported to the VAERS database. Frankly, it can be gamed by those with nefarious intentions.

VAERS is a feel-good system for those who think that there’s a link between vaccines and something terrible, but without an active investigation, the data is just above the level of totally meaningless. Most epidemiologists know it is valueless. Even the VAERS system itself says that the data cannot be used to ascertain the difference between coincidence and true causality.

There is a background rate for mortality and other significant events, across all causes, irrespective of whether an individual is vaccinated or not, and unless you understand the background rate, the vaccine “serious harms” rate has no scientific meaning.

There are numerous large (hundreds of thousands to millions of patients included) epidemiological studies that have shown no links between the HPV vaccine and every serious adverse event. This is real science, using well-established methodology to determine causality, not a passive system, VAERS, that makes no attempt to provide us with convincing data of a link between HPV vaccine and anything.

But it makes for a great anti-HPV vaccine propaganda video.

HPV vaccine clinical trials

The next phase of the disinformation video is to claim that during the clinical trials, “73% of girls developed new medical conditions.” I have no idea where they got that high of number, unless they included injection site events which are common to every type of injection, vaccine or otherwise. They aren’t serious.

According to package insert (pdf), serious adverse reactions were observed in only 2.3% of clinical trial participants. Moreover, we know that package inserts report all adverse events, irrespective of whether they are caused by vaccines or not.

But again, real evidence shows that there are few, if any, serious adverse events have been shown to be related to the HPV vaccine. Once again, the anti-HPV vaccine propaganda video ignores scientific evidence so that the anti-vaccine narrative appears correct. Nope, it isn’t.

More propaganda

Next up, the video attempts to claim that there are more adverse events and deaths from the HPV vaccine than other vaccines. Once again, this is from VAERS, which we’ve already debunked as a valid tool for examining vaccine issues. But ANHUSA just loves dumpster diving there.

The video claims that getting the vaccine, after you’ve already been infected by HPV, increases your risk of cancer “according to landmark studies.” Well, let’s try to find one of these “landmark studies,” because I’ve been talking about Gardasil for years, and I don’t recall any of these studies.

I couldn’t find any of these “landmark studies,” yet I did find a large study that did examine the HPV vaccine being used in women who already had one or two subtypes of HPV. They did not find any additional risk of cancer, but did say it’s not very useful to clear out the HPV virus in a previous infected persons. Of course, this did not study Gardasil9, which protects against 9 different cancer causing subtypes of HPV. There probably is good reason to be vaccinated with Gardasil9, even if infected with one or two of the subtypes, because it protects against all of the others.

In addition, the National Cancer Institute says this about getting the vaccine while having a current HPV infection:

Although HPV vaccines have been found to be safe when given to people who are already infected with HPV, the vaccines do not treat infection. They provide maximum benefit if a person receives them before he or she is sexually active.

It is likely that someone exposed to HPV will still get some residual benefit from vaccination, even if he or she has already been infected with one or more of the HPV types included in the vaccines.

At present, there is no generally available test to show whether an individual has been exposed to HPV. The currently approved HPV tests show only whether a person has a current infection with a high-risk HPV type at the cervix and do not provide information on past infections.

The anti-HPV vaccine propaganda video then makes a dramatic appeal that saving someone from a cancer that might happen 25 years in the future isn’t worth a child’s life. Yes, HPV related cancers may not appear for decades – but reducing the risk today is totally worth it, using any type of equation you want.

And once again, we have no scientific evidence, of even weak quality, that the HPV vaccine has any negative effect on a child’s life. In fact, we have robust and overwhelming evidence that the HPV vaccine is safe.

Summary

The pseudoscience-pushing ANHUSA gave the world a creative, but wholly inaccurate, anti-HPV vaccine propaganda infomercial. It uses bogus and unsupported claims to try to convince parents that the HPV vaccine is unsafe. There is no evidence of this. None.

The HPV-vaccine prevents cancer. And saves lives.

Citations

 
 
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!