Updated – Japan and HPV vaccine – debunking myths

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2013. It has been revised and updated to include recent developments with the HPV cancer preventing vaccine and Japan’s Health Ministry.

The comments have been closed for this article. Please comment at the revised article.

I enjoy refuting myths about cancer prevention and cures, for only one reason–because there are real cancer cures and preventions that people overlook. Frankly speaking, there really is only a handful of ways to prevent cancer backed by real scientific evidence–and one of the most important ones is receiving the HPV vaccine.

Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the USA. There are more than 40 HPV sub-types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. Additionally, some HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

HPV is linked to cancers in men and women, and because there are so many subtypes, research has established which HPV types are related to which cancers. Because HPV is sexually transmitted, most of the infections occur near the mouth, throat, anus and genital areas–and most HPV related cancers begin there.

HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous with regards to cancer as tobacco. 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.

Continue reading “Updated – Japan and HPV vaccine – debunking myths”

Worldwide vaccine uptake-2014

vaccines-saves-live-cloud

I make it a point to update this blog with the most current CDC analysis of vaccine uptake in the USA for kindergarten children (usually around 5 years old). Generally, the numbers have stayed stable, at around 95% vaccinated, although there is high variance from state to state, and locality to locality. The weakness in the vaccination uptake in the USA is that some areas may approach 100% vaccinated, but then other areas may be 50%, which makes those areas with low vaccine uptake susceptible to a quick spread of diseases that are not endemic to the USA (such as measles, polio, and others) through that unvaccinated population.

Given the 95% vaccine uptake rate, it begs the questions of why I push so hard for vaccination–because I want to protect the lives of children, and those 5% who aren’t vaccinated are at risk of serious disease and even death. And vaccines are the safest way to protect a child–protect them from death.

Nearly 55% of the readers of this blog are not American (a couple of years ago,this blog got a regular reader from Iran, which meant that all countries were represented amongst this blog’s readers). I have been accused of being a bit American-centric, but at the same time, I was also curious about vaccine uptake worldwide.  Continue reading “Worldwide vaccine uptake-2014”

The beginning of the end of Gardasil–probably not

 

Safe. Prevents cancer.
Safe. Prevents cancer.

More fear mongering from the antivaccination forces, this time claiming that “mainstream news media is widely reporting today that a French teenager has filed a lawsuit against French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pasteur, and France’s health regulators, over side-effects that were caused by the Gardasil HPV vaccine.” The plaintiff is claiming that the vaccine induced multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease that results from inflammation of neurons. The best available evidence is that MS is caused by a virus, which someday will be prevented with a vaccine!

Formally known as the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe) is a vaccine that prevents infection by the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine specifically targets subtypes 16 and 18, that cause not only approximately 70% of cervical cancers, but they also cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked) and penile (35% linked) cancers. It also targets HPV6 and HPV11, which account for approximately 90% of external genital warts. The viruses are generally passed through genital contact, almost always as a result of vaginal, oral and anal sex. 

Let’s be clear here. Gardasil prevents cancers–serious, life threatening cancers.

Furthermore, the HPV quadrivalent vaccine has been shown to be extraordinarily safe in two different and large epidemiological studies, one with over 700,000 doses and the other with over 350,000 doses. The relative safety of the HPV vaccine is not in question except by those who engage in logical fallacies and anecdotes. The size of these two studies were so large, so impressive, that they would have uncovered extremely rare events, and there were none.

We  have discussed this issue before. Teenagers are at risk of many chronic diseases that are coincidental to vaccines. For example, the rate for MS in some populations in Europe is close to 200 per 100,000. Without any substantial and incontrovertible evidence that the HPV vaccine is linked to MS, and with substantial evidence that MS is caused by viruses and is fairly prevalent in Europe, one can only conclude scientifically that this child had a coincidental MS attack. That is sad, and I wish we could have prevented the disease, and someday we might–but blaming Gardasil is simply irresponsible, since we have evidence it saves lives

So, let’s debunk some of the crazy points made by the fear-mongering anti-Gardasil article:

  1. No, we have no evidence that Gardasil caused MS. In fact, we have evidence otherwise, since the background rate of MS in Europe is substantial.
  2. VAERS data (yes, the article decided to use VAERS) is merely observational. It is not controlled, it does not show causality, and it is abused by those who fail to understand the scientific and epidemiological value of the data.
  3. A lawsuit certainly does not imply causality, especially since nothing has been adjudicated so far. And even if the French legal system finds for the plaintiff, it does not provide evidence of causality. Courts are terrible evaluators of scientific data.
  4. Japan did not stop using Gardasil vaccine. The Japanese Health Ministry, under pressure from the anti-science crowd, withdrew its recommendation for the vaccine based on adverse events that were actually BELOW the rates of those same events in the general population. In other words, they failed to take any epidemiology courses.
  5. Oh, and the author blames Bill Gates in some complicated, nonsensical conspiracy theory about killing girls with HPV vaccines. It’s clear that for the vaccine deniers, since they don’t have real scientific evidence, they need to blame Bill Gates. And blame him again if that doesn’t work

Therefore, the HPV vaccine is safe, based on over 1 million doses in controlled studies. HPV vaccine prevents the virus that causes some serious, deadly cancers. Multiple sclerosis is probably not caused by the HPV vaccine (or any vaccine to be factual). Multiple sclerosis is probably caused by a virus that one day will be prevented by a vaccine developed by real scientists (and if I’m still writing then, rest assured the vaccine deniers will risk their children contracting MS to whine nonsensically about that new vaccine). 

Gardasil saves lives. And I’ve shown that scientific fact based on solid scientific, published evidence.

If you need to search for scientific information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

Key citations:

Japan Health Ministry pulls recommendation for HPV vaccination

The comments have been closed for this article. Please comment at the revised article.

I was going to put some snarky comment in the title like, “but wait, what about the statistics.” Because we know that this isn’t a good decision, and that the vaccine deniers will be all over it like MrAndy Wakefield’s fraudulent and retracted study claiming that vaccines cause autism. But let’s move on to what happened.

According to a English newspaper in Japan,

The health ministry decided June 14 to withdraw its recommendation for a vaccination to protect girls against cervical cancer after hundreds complained about possible side effects, including long-term pain and numbness.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is not suspending the use of the vaccination, but it has instructed local governments not to promote the use of the medicine while studies are conducted on the matter.

So far, an estimated 3.28 million people have received the vaccination. However, 1,968 cases of possible side effects, including body pain, have been reported.

The ministry’s task force discussed 43 of those cases. However, a cause-and-effect relationship between the vaccination and the pain and numbness could not be established, so the task force members called for further studies by the ministry.

The ministry’s investigation is expected to take several months. It will then decide whether to reinstate or continue to withhold its recommendation for the vaccination.

So, the health ministry is going to withhold recommendation of the HPV vaccination because they notice 43 cases for which they couldn’t establish a causal relationship to the vaccine. In other words, 0.0013% of cases, a number so small that it’s pretty close to impossible to affix any statistical significance to it. In fact, random background “noise” (that is that some whole body pain could be expected in any random sampling of vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals) of this type of observation is as plausible as correlation (let alone causation) to the vaccine. In fact, the Health Ministry failed to provide us with data concerning the level of these side effects in the general population. Nor how soon after vaccination. Nor anything potentially useful in a scientific analysis.

What’s worse is that, according to the same article, about 2700 women in Japan die every year from HPV related cancers. So, because of complaints from the antivaccination lunatics in Japan (didn’t know they had any, but I shouldn’t be surprised), and bad statistics (43 potential cases of “body pain” out of 3,280,000 vaccinations), the Health Ministry stops recommending the vaccine. Exactly what were these people thinking?

Finally, let’s be clear here. The vaccine hasn’t been pulled from the market nor has it been outlawed; teenagers can still get the vaccine. And this was a very unusual move, since only 3 years ago, Japan’s parliament added the HPV vaccine to the mandatory schedule. Hopefully, this committee will look at the numbers from a statistical and scientific point of view and fix this stupidity.

By the way, the World Health Organization still recommends the HPV vaccine.  Because the HPV vaccine saves lives by preventing future cervical cancers.

 

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

Key citations:

Vaccine denier – diseases eliminated by sanitation, not vaccines

And here we go again. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I was catching up on some reading, which sometimes leads me to reading pseudoscience claims of some random vaccine denier. In this case, it was an article that claimed that it had “irrefutable evidence” that diseases were eliminated by better sanitation rather than vaccination.

Well, I am always one to read up on “irrefutable evidence”, but it’s possible that my standard for “irrefutable evidence” is different than most others. And in fact, real science assumes that most evidence can be scientifically refuted, so it never speaks in such absolutes. So that’s hint #1 that I’m going to be disappointed. Continue reading “Vaccine denier – diseases eliminated by sanitation, not vaccines”