Vaccine debate continues

Suzi Starheim

HPV prevention comes with risks

Since 2006, when cervical cancer and human papillomavirus were brought to the attention of young women who plan to become sexually active, millions of high school and college-aged women have flocked to get the vaccine that the government has even questioned making mandatory.

While every vaccine has risks and minor reactions associated with it, questions on the safety of the Gardasil vaccine, which wards off HPV and its symptoms through a series of three shots, have risen since it reached popularity a few years ago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 deaths have been reported between June 2006 and August 2008 in the United States. The reports were not directly attributed to the Gardasil vaccine, but all of the women had received the vaccine prior to their deaths.


• Human papillomavirus (HPV): A common virus that infects the skin and mucous membranes. There are about 100 types of HPV. Approximately 30 of those are spread through genital contact and there are about 15 “high-risk” types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Men carry the HPV virus, which is why it is preferable to have the vaccine before becoming sexually active.

• Gardasil: A vaccine that helps protect against four types of human papillomavirus (HPV): two types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and two more types that cause 90 percent of genital warts cases. Gardasil is for girls and young women ages nine to 26.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and!

Several of these deaths were associated with seizures, blood clots and heart failure, which are thought to have been side effects of the vaccine.

The CDC also reported that Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a disorder that causes muscle degeneration and, in some cases, almost total paralysis, has occurred in some women who received the vaccine.

Soghra Homafar, an OB-GYN physician affiliated with Robinson Memorial Hospital in Kent who recommends Gardasil to her patients, said while reactions to Gardasil are possible, she has not had any of her patients have major reactions.

“With every vaccination or treatment of medication there are going to be some side effects,” Homafar said, “but the majority of women ages nine to 26 are healthy candidates.”

Homafar said typical reactions she has seen mainly include pain, soreness and redness at the injection site, and many of these minor reactions are due to allergies to any component of the vaccine. A low-grade fever could also develop from the vaccine, Homafar said.

While reactions to Gardasil are always a possibility, Homafar said they are very rare and its benefits heavily outweigh any risks associated with it. She said she feels the vaccine will help to decrease the cost of health care and the necessity of procedures and biopsies in the long run.

The vaccine costs $140 per injection at Planned Parenthood centers. Three shots are required, reaching a total cost of $420.

Joanna Green, Planned Parenthood communications director, said since all insurance companies do not cover the vaccine, the center offers payment plans.

“If the woman wants the vaccine, we would rather work with them financially than have them not get the vaccine at all,” she said. “We don’t turn anyone away for inability to pay.”

For those who still aren’t sure about receiving the Gardasil, a new vaccine is in the works.

Cervarix, which is not yet available, also claims to prevent cervical cancer. Green said, however, it is impossible as of now to say when it will be finished or whether Planned Parenthood will offer both vaccines.

Contact news correspondent Suzi Starheim at [email protected]