Could the Gardasil vaccine actually help increase cervical cancer rates?

“The side effects that have been reported are real and they cannot be brushed aside.”

gardasil_vidThat quote, from Diane Harper, M.D., might mark a turning point in the way the medical mainstream perceives Gardasil, the controversial vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). Dr. Harper is part of that mainstream. In fact, she was one of the principal investigators in the initial Gardasil trials. But she hasn’t been timid about recognizing Gardasil’s dangers.

More than a year ago, HSI writer and researcher Michele Cagan interviewed Dr. Harper, who revealed a surprising fear about the way Gardasil might influence women’s health habits. This is an excerpt from that interview.

“Even though Dr. Harper believes in the vaccine, she does not think it should be mandated for young girls. She also told me about several concerns she has surrounding public perception of the vaccine, including this stunner: Dr. Harper is afraid that the way the vaccine is being presented could actually have the effect of increasing the rate of cervical cancer in the U.S.

“Why is Dr. Harper afraid of this outcome? ‘Because of the way the vaccine is being advertised and portrayed in the media. The vaccine is not a silver bullet. It can’t clear up an existing HPV infection, and it can’t cure cervical cancer. But the advertising doesn’t make that very clear.’ If women think the vaccine offers 100% protection – or, even worse, can cure the virus or the cancer – they may skip their annual Pap tests, and that could very well lead to an increase in cervical cancer rates.

“Another gray area is the duration. It appears to remain effective for at least five years, but we have no idea how long it will last in the real world. And that could mean that girls vaccinated at 11 or 12 actually lose protection when they’ll need it most – but it’s impossible to know that until after large numbers of vaccinated girls contract the virus.

“Here’s another little tidbit the advertising fails to mention – but it’s a critical point. If a girl already has an HPV infection, the vaccine won’t work. I asked Dr. Harper if that was only true for the strain in question, but it’s not. ‘If someone has HPV 18, for example, the vaccine won’t provide any protection for that strain, or full protection for any of the other strains.’ And since millions of women have HPV, millions of women could be getting vaccinated for nothing. Except side effects, that is”

For more on Dr. Harper’s misgivings about Gardasil, see the e-Alert “Hide Your Daughters” (8/21/08).