This has got to be the worst reason in the world to get a vaccine

Contesting the contest

What’s the worst message you could send to children about pharmaceutical drugs?

How about this: Don’t bother thinking about a drug, just go ahead and take it.

That’s one of the terrible messages kids will pick up when they enter a vaccine contest. But the vaccine isn’t the prize. The vaccine is the child’s entry to the contest.

And I’m sad to tell you, this contest is all too real.

In North Carolina’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District, kids who get certain vaccines before June 1st will be entered to win one of two iPods or a laptop.

And if that seems like a REALLY bad idea, just wait. It gets so much worse…

Not-so-sweet 16

If this contest were sponsored by a drug company, the manipulation of students and their parents would be easy to skewer. But the basic motive here appears to be well-meaning.

The prizes are made possible through a donation from two parents who lost their daughter to meningococcal disease–a deadly bacterial infection. Risk of the disease can be lowered with a meningococcal vaccine. That’s why contest rules require that every student who enters gets at least this one vaccine.

After that vaccine is given, each student can increase his or her number of entries by getting two more vaccines: Tdap (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis), and–yes, you probably saw this coming–HPV.

That’s right–Gardasil.

The contest notice on the CHCCS website explains that these are “3 vaccines that are especially recommended for adolescents.” But the presence of Gardasil is just completely and absurdly irresponsible.

The meningococcal and Tdap vaccines have their problems, but nothing approaching the tens of thousands of adverse events and more than 90 deaths that have been linked to Gardasil.

But here’s where this contest goes completely off the rails…

Any student who’s 16 or older can get vaccinated without permission from parents. Meanwhile, the local health department is offering all three vaccines in special clinics held on six different afternoons in May.

That means that many kids–motivated by the prospect of winning a high-tech electronic prize–will show up at the clinics and request each vaccine. And if they’re over 16, they don’t need to discuss the pros and cons with their parents, or even let their parents know!

And you have to wonder how likely it is that health department employees will inform students receiving Gardasil that they might faint after the shot, and that others who have received the shot have also experienced slurred speech, seizures, muscle spasms, paralysis, pelvic pain, joint pain, extreme weight loss, vision loss, hair loss, enlarged liver, migraines, coma, or death.

I just have a strong hunch that most, or maybe ALL of that, won’t even be mentioned.

This contest perfectly illustrates how so many people are poorly informed about potential vaccine side effects–especially Gardasil. You would think that among the educators who are helping run this contest there would be SOMEONE who would stand up and say, “This just isn’t right.”

On SaneVax, a website devoted to vaccine safety, a Maryland woman named Emily Tarsell did stand up. She wrote an open letter to the North Carolina School Board about using Gardasil in the contest.

Emily: “My daughter and I and millions of others were deceived by false marketing and a failure to be informed of the true risks and benefits. My healthy daughter died from receiving a vaccine she did not even need. I am writing so you will have the benefit of information we did not have.”

It would be a tragic irony if a contest to honor the life of a young student took the life of another student who was blissfully unaware of how dangerous one of those vaccines could be.

“CHCCS News” Chapel Hill–Carrboro City Schools, 4/26/11,
“Emily Tarsell Writes Letter of Concern to N. Carolina School Board–HPV Vaccine Risks” Emily Tarsell, 4/30/11,

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