How safe is the HPV vaccine?

After successfully triggering a backlash against the movement for universal HPV vaccination, right wingers are working hard on the health-scare angle. The conservative group Judicial Watch has made public the FDA’s records on adverse reactions to the HPV vaccine:

Three deaths were related to the vaccine. One physician’s assistant reported that a female patient “died of a blood clot three hours after getting the Gardasil vaccine.” Two other reports, on girls 12 and 19, reported deaths relating to heart problems and/or blood clotting.
As of May 11, 2007, the 1,637 adverse vaccination reactions reported to the FDA via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) included 371 serious reactions. Of the 42 women who received the vaccine while pregnant, 18 experienced side effects ranging from spontaneous abortion to fetal abnormities.

Yikes, right? Well, maybe some stuff to be concerned about, and some not. After all, 77% of the “adverse reactions” were typical vaccination side effects — itching, dizziness, etc. Kaiser reports:

CDC, FDA and Merck have said that the adverse events likely were unrelated to the vaccine and were caused by underlying health problems or other factors, the Journal reports. According to CDC, two of the three women who died were taking oral contraceptives and died of blood clots, which are associated with oral contraceptives. The third, a 12-year-old girl, had heart disease and died of a heart inflammation triggered by the flu.

I read the same reports the Judicial Watch people did. One of the women died of a blood clot two weeks after receiving the vaccine. And the 12-year-old also had chicken pox and Hepatitis A vaccines on the same day. Granted, I’m not a medical professional. But nothing I read made me feel uneasy about getting the vaccine. This isn’t exactly like three women and girls have received the shot and then dropped dead on the spot — it seems like they had other health issues. I have yet to read an evaluation from an apolitical medical professional who believes these reports are an indication that the vaccine is dangerous.
All vaccines carry a certain level of risk. All come with warnings that if you have certain conditions you should probably choose not to be vaccinated. During 2003 and the first half of 2004, there were eight reported deaths related to the chicken pox vaccine. Three deaths in the past year — which may or may not be attributable to the HPV vaccine — doesn’t exactly seem like a “catalog of horrors” to me.
That said, the deaths potentially caused by oral-contraceptive-related blood clots are troubling. I’m guessing that a lot of women in the “catch-up” age range for HPV vaccination — ages 18 to 26 — are on the Pill or other hormonal contraception. And it sounds like you should just hold off on the vaccine if you’re pregnant.
This is a good time to issue a reminder about conservative hypocrisy on this issue. It’s a right-wing group that’s ringing alarm bells over reactions to the vaccine. But for years, uber-conservative groups sounded some of the loudest warnings about the dangers of HPV. (From the American Family Association, in 2003: “HPV, a Bigger Killer, Takes Back Seat to Agenda-Driven Issue of AIDS.”) But of course they wouldn’t celebrate a vaccine gaining wide acceptance, because HPV is of great use to the abstinence movement. It’s one of the few STI’s that condoms don’t effectively protect against, meaning HPV-related cervical cancer was proof of the “grim cost of sexual promiscuity” and “100 percent preventable with proper sexual behavior.” So now that there’s a vaccine for HPV, they have to catalog the “horrors!” of the adverse reactions in order to keep up their “SEX KILLS” talking point.

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