Blinders off, please
It does NOT matter!
That was my immediate reaction when I saw the “news” about the Gardasil HPV vaccine.
In a new study that the media couldn’t jump on fast enough, it looks like the vaccine reduced HPV infection rates. And infection rates even dropped among women who were not vaccinated.
I expect that executives at Merck, the maker of Gardasil, are hoping that doctors and parents will read about this study with blinders firmly in place.
With blinders on, it’s wonderful news.
With blinders off… Well, in case I wasn’t clear…it does NOT matter!
Two elephants in the room
If Gardasil were 100% effective (impossible to achieve), and if every girl and boy got the vaccine at age 11 (again, impossible), there would STILL be two huge concerns with this drug.
1) Gardasil is designed to prevent just a few HPV strains. So cervical cancer risk will always be there. But many women will think the vaccine protects them. So they’ll be less motivated to get a yearly pap smear. And from my own experience I can tell you, this is the ONLY way to truly lower your risk of dying from cervical cancer.
2) For some women, the side effects of this vaccine are horrendous. But so many doctors, health officials, and media outlets seem to be clueless about these very real potential dangers. And in the case of the media, I believe some outlets purposely ignore them.
Meanwhile, the media embraced this new wafer-thin study. Without a trace of skepticism, reports treated it like a major breakthrough.
The ABC News headline focuses on the so-called “herd immunity” benefit and reads… “HPV Vaccine Protects Even Those Who Skip It.”
Wonderful! But read further down and you’ll find that women who received the vaccine cut their “likelihood” of having an HPV infection. “Likelihood?” That’s worlds away from effective control of cervical cancer.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital conducted the study. A CCH press release adds this note… “The overall prevalence of HPV (including types not targeted by the vaccine) in the study was ‘extremely high.'”
Yikes! Does that sound like successful prevention to you?
So let’s rewrite that ABC headline to bring it a little closer to reality… “The Evidence Doesn’t Really Support this Wildly Optimistic Claim, but We’ll Pretend that HPV Vaccine Protects Even Those Who Skip It.”
There you go! Blinders off. So much better.
“Vaccine-Type Human Papillomavirus and Evidence of Herd Protection After Vaccine Introduction” Pediatrics, Published online ahead of print, 7/9/12, pediatrics.aappublications.org
“HPV vaccine reduces infection, even in unvaccinated” Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, 7/9/12, eurekalert.org
“HPV Vaccine Protects Even Those Who Skip It” Dr. Stacey Schott, ABC News, 7/9/12, abcnews.go.com