Tuesday, July 5, 2016

HPV Vaccine Study Shows Reduction in Cervical Cell Abnormalities

Gardasil, a vaccine that helps prevent four human papilloma viruses (HPV) known to cause cervical cancer and cervical warts, was approved in the United States and Canada in 2006. Since then, millions of doses have been given, and probably an equal number of debates about its utility and safety have been argued among both the general public and healthcare professionals.

New study findings 

A new study published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reviewed the efficacy and safety of the vaccine over the past eight years. The study included 10,204 women, aged 18 to 24 years, who had undergone Pap smear testing for cervical abnormalities. Most women in the group, 8,723 (85.5%) did not have any abnormalities, but 1,481 women (14.5%) did; 1,384 of these women had low-grade cervical anomalies and 97 had high-grade abnormalities.

The researchers found that 56% of the women were not vaccinated with Gardasil and 16.1% in this group had cervical abnormalities. Forty-four percent of the women received at least one dose before their screening test; 84% in this group were fully vaccinated, having received 3 or more doses; 11.8% in the fully vaccinated group had cervical abnormalities. In other words, women who had received the full dose of Gardasil had a lower incidence of cervical abnormalities that could lead to cancer.

But is the vaccine safe?

Tara Haelle did such a good job last year in her article about Gardasil vaccine that I thought it was better to refer you to her piece: Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date.

But what about long-term efficacy, some people ask? What if it stops working? Yes, it's true that we don't know if the vaccine's effectiveness will last - but we didn't know that about the other vaccines we took either. I was vaccinated with the hepatitis vaccine when I first began working as a nurse. It was hospital policy and we didn't really have a choice. At the time, we weren't told that it was only effective for 25 years. We didn't know.

The morality argument

Just a few weeks ago, I read a respectful debate between a group of people who weren't sure if they wanted to vaccinate their teens, both male and female, with Gardasil. Most were in favor of the vaccine, while a few others were either hesitant or against it. I do realize that some parents are distrustful of vaccines, particularly one that appeared to come onto the scene as quickly as Gardasil. But I was surprised to see someone pull out the morality argument in the discussion - that if you gave your daughter Gardasil, you were condoning early sexual behavior.

That argument always bothers me. We will never control how or when our children have sex simply by not giving them a vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection. That just isn't going to happen. And what about all those whose teens and children whose first sexual experiences aren't their choice? We can never forget the number of teens and children who are abused, who are victims of sexual predators. Using sexual morality as an excuse to not give the vaccine just doesn't hold water.

So is Gardasil a good thing for our children?