Gardasil is a vaccine supposed to protect against the cancer-causing strains of HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted virus linked to cervical cancer. Currently it is subsidised in New Zealand for girls up to the age of 20, and recommended at age 12, in three doses over six months.
The promotion of this vaccine has played on the fears of responsible parents, insinuating that their failure to opt for this harmless jab unnecessarily puts their young daughters at risk of cancer. The risk of cervical cancer is emphasised, as is the ability of Gardasil to guarantee protection from it, while making the vaccine out to be safe as houses. What parent wouldn’t go for it? If you scratch the surface though, things don’t seem to be so clear cut.
Was this drug pushed onto the market too quickly? Did it receive sufficient testing and go through the required procedures for safety and efficacy that all vaccines are supposed to be subjected to? It was first licensed in the US in 2006 after a fast-tracked trial period (Why? What was the sudden urgency to have an HPV vaccine?), and was approved for funding by the New Zealand government in 2008.
Last November an investigative piece on the Mediaworks programme ‘3D’ sparked a complaint by Seqirus (the makers of Gardasil in NZ) to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, claiming the programme was misleading, alarmist and made Gardasil out to be unsafe. In June the BSA announced it would not uphold the complaint, saying the programme did not mislead viewers but investigated both sides and was informative.
Serious side effects
In New Zealand alone there have been numerous reports of adverse side effects and three deaths linked to the vaccine. Two girls’ families wish to remain unnamed, a third was Jasmine Renata, who died in her sleep in 2009 aged 18, after receiving the vaccine. Her mother says she experienced a range of serious symptoms after her first dose in 2008, and continued to suffer side effects until her sudden death six months after her final dose. While the local coroner determined that the vaccine was definitely not the cause of death, two overseas experts contradicted him, saying that it is possible the vaccine was the cause, and that the samples they tested showed abnormalities, but there was no way to be sure.
Chantal Nielsen in the UK, aged 13, reported fainting, memory lapses and is now wheelchair bound, unable to use her legs. A perfectly healthy 12-year-old Wisconsin girl died just hours after receiving the vaccine. There are tens of thousands of similar examples.
Norma Erickson, the president of Sanevax (a US organization devoted to reporting on safe and unsafe vaccines) suggests two ingredients could be responsible for the adverse effects: aluminium, a neurotoxin, and L-hystidine, which interferes with the brain’s defences against such toxins. Erickson can’t explain why Gardasil would cause such a wide range of health problems, but insists there needs to be a full investigation.
As well as sudden death, Gardasil has been linked to cases of multiple sclerosis, brain inflammation, paralysis, memory loss, stroke, seizures, blindness, pancreatitis, extreme fatigue, speech problems and premature menopause. By 2012, tens of thousands of reports of negative effects had been made to the US government, including 128 deaths. An article in the Washington Times in 2014 revealed that US courts had awarded almost US$6 million to victims of Gardasil in a single year. The vaccine was tested on fewer than 1200 girls under the age of 16 in the US before it was released onto the market. Reported problems associated with Gardasil are around five times as high as the average for vaccines, according to a representative of the CDC in the US.
Experts warn that Gardasil is not only unsafe but doesn’t work
Former employee of Merck, the US company that developed Gardasil, Dr Bernard Dalbergue claimed in a 2014 interview with French magazine Principes de Santé, that the drug was put onto the market too quickly, and calls it a “medical fairy tale”.
He said the vaccine does nothing to prevent cervical cancer and that the “very many adverse effects destroy lives and even kill,” but that its hasty approval for funding in the US and Europe were driven by the profit margins of the manufacturers. He said that Gardasil “will be the biggest medical scandal of all time”.
Dr Dalbergue isn’t anti vaccines. He agrees that without them we would still be subject to horrible diseases like smallpox and polio, which used to kill millions. He said that those vaccines were also not without serious side effects, but the risk was worth the benefits, and that this is the measure of a worthwhile vaccine. He also draws attention to a previous scandal involving Merck’s anti-inflammatory, Vioxx, which had serious side effects that they tried to cover up before re-releasing the drug with some minor changes under a different brand name.
Dr Diane Harper was one of 50 people who worked on developing the vaccine and carrying out the safety and effectiveness studies to get it approved. She has since expressed grave concerns. She says the length of time that the vaccine is effective is less than the time it can take for cancers to develop. According to Dr Harper, 90% of women with HPV will naturally eliminate the virus in two years. So as a vaccine for pubescent girls, the majority of whom are not sexually active, it’s more of a marketing exercise than a genuine precautionary measure. She says that regular pap smears are a much more effective way of reducing the risk of cervical cancer. What’s more, Dr. Genevieve Rail, who received a grant from the Canadian government to study HPV, concluded that there isn’t even any definitive proof that the virus causes cervical cancer.
So there are those that insist that Gardasil is safe and that the cases of death and debilitating health problems are a coincidence, labelling the medical professionals that mistrust it as ‘alarmist’ and ‘unscientific’. These same people are simply taking the word of a pharmaceutical company known for misleading the public. Now who’s being unscientific? At the very least, the negative reports need to be taken seriously with a proper investigation. Yet another concern is that women will put off getting regular pap smears because they think they are fully protected by the vaccine, resulting in more cases of cervical cancer going undetected until it’s too late.