Gardasil and the Chance to Eliminate a Cause of Cervical Cancer

by Nicole Schenk on March 27, 2014



          As a young woman in my twenties, I remember when the vaccine to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) was introduced into the general public. I was in middle school when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine, Gardasil. My friends began telling me about these three painful shots that made your arm hurt for days afterwards. Not long after, my doctor was recommending I get the vaccine as well. It has been a few years since then, but what has become of this vaccine? Has it reduced the rate of cervical cancer? Or is it too soon to tell?

            Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an incredibly common sexually transmitted disease. It is so common that at some point in his or her adult life, every person will have been infected with HPV. There are different strains of HPV each with its own unique symptoms. Some are harmless, while others may cause cervical cancer in women or genital warts.

For years, researchers were trying to produce a vaccine that would stop the spread of HPV. In 2006, FDA approved what has become one the most popular HPV vaccines, Gardasil. Like most vaccines, Gardasil works by constructing an immune system response to HPV. HPV forms virus like particles (VLP) that are non-infectious, due to their lack of DNA. These VLP stimulate antibody production in the white blood cells and prevent HPV from infecting the cells in the future. Like all vaccines, Gardasil will not cure those already infected with HPV, however, it will prevent the future spreading of the virus. In fact, since 2003 the percent of women infected with HPV has decreased dramatically from 50% of adult women to 27% today.

Gardasil protects against four types of HPV-6, 11, 16, and 18. Types 6 and 11 cause genital warts and Types 16 and 18 can potentially lead to cancer. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommends all young males and females (9-26) get vaccinated. Another HPV vaccine has been approved as well, Cervarix. However, this only protects against Type 16 and 18.

A vaccine that protects against cancer? This should be good news, right? It is, but that is not to say that controversy regarding it is extinct. Many people raise good questions about the future of this vaccine:

            Should it be mandated?

            The vaccine was a major talking point in the 2012 Republican presidential candidate debate. Michelle Bachman referred to it as “innocent little girls” being “forced to have a government injection”. Currently only two places require the vaccine for middle school aged girls, Virginia and Washington DC. Both places offer an opt-out option, as long as a signed doctor’s note is received. Parents are also concerned that mandating the vaccine will cause their children to become sexually active earlier. Many feel that these children getting vaccinated are only in middle school, and are not yet sexually active   so it seems unnecessary.


Are there adverse health effects?

As with any new drug people are worried about what the side effects may be and how they can harm their body. After being administered the vaccine, two children died of a rare neurological disorder. However, the CDC looked into   both of these deaths and found no cause and effect correlation between the vaccine and death. In December 2013, Katie Couric’s talk show interviewed two mothers whose daughters both experienced negative side effects after receiving the vaccine. One daughter passed away. Scientific evidence has yet to determine that the cause of death among these girls is the HPV vaccine.


At twelve and thirteen years old, when I received three doses of Gardasil over six months, I had very little say in whether or not I wanted it. If I had had my way I would have refused it, but not because I was worried about side effects, just because I looked for every possible way of not getting shots. Now with a few more years under my belt, I am thankful for my doctor recommending the vaccine and my mom making me get it. Although there may be different side effects, I would rather have tried to protect myself than to never have tried at all. At this point, I’m not so sure if the vaccine should be mandated. It is a relatively new vaccine and although it proved successful in clinical trials, the long term outcome for the general public has yet to be determined. Once it has been in circulation for a long period of time, we will begin to see exactly what benefits this vaccine will be able to offer.



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