Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reservations about Gardasil

We're incredibly excited to present our first post by a guest blogger.

Reservations about Gardasil by Tanya DeBuff Wallette:

 The mommy wars are still raging.  Parents judge each other so harshly that it seems no one wins when it comes to a variety of topics like giving birth the “right” way, breastfeeding, free-range parenting, television watching habits, proper age for things like earrings, cell phones, walking home alone, issues of discipline, etc., etc., etc., and, of course, vaccination.  A few months ago I wrote a guest post for The Feminist Breeder in which I expressed my surprise that many of my cohorts in the pro-choice movement, who vehemently defend any woman’s right to choose, seem very much anti-choice when it comes to vaccinations, both for children and adults.  I am all for choice when it comes to vaccines.  I’m not anti-vaccine, but I’m definitely a skeptic, and have decided from now on to research vaccines and do what I think is best on a case-by-case basis. 

            When it comes to the HPV vaccine case, I have made my decision.  My daughters and my son and any future children I may have will not receive the HPV vaccine while it is my decision to make.  When they are old enough they may choose for themselves.  I have a real problem with the vaccine, and it’s not because of the way the virus is spread.  I have two  main problems with Gardasil in particular (not having read too much about Cervarix, a less popular HPV vaccine by a different company). 

EFFICACY.  According to WebMD, the vaccine is proven to be effective for at least four years, and maybe longer.  Long-term effects are not known.  (How could they be?  The vaccine only came out six years ago!)  So, it might last for five years?  Six?  Gardasil is now recommended for females and males from about age 9 to 26.  So if a person received the series at 9 years of age, they’re going to be protected until they’re 14 or so.  Then what, a booster?  A series of boosters?  According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer occurs mostly in mid-life, usually under 50 years of age but rarely in those under 20 years of age.  Multiple booster shots would likely be necessary to keep immunity up.  The vaccine works to protect against those strains that are most likely to cause cancer ONLY if sexual activity hasn’t begun yet. 

So if my nine year-old hasn’t had sex (cripes, did I just have to type that?  Ack!), they’re protected against four strains for at least four years.  If my child has begun sexual activity by the time they receive the injections, and they have been exposed to one of the four strains, “catch-up” vaccines may be useful in protecting against the other three strains.  But then again, they may not.  The American Cancer Society says “the independent panel making the Society recommendations found that there was not enough proof that catch-up vaccination for all women age 19 to 26 would be beneficial.” 

While writing this I attempted to find an article or piece of information discussing this discrepancy.  Why vaccinate our children for something they are not likely to contract until middle age?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait if the protection lasts for only four years?  I found nothing in my search for discussion about Gardasil’s length of efficacy.  I’m not satisfied with the gap here.  If I were to seriously consider this vaccination, I would want to know how long my kids would be protected, and they would also deserve to know if they would need to continue to receive boosters throughout their lives. 

It’s generally agreed, at least, that Pap smears remain a necessity even if a woman has had the vaccination.  Pap screening can catch atypical cells and precancerous cells, and the rise in the percentage of women getting regular Paps has led to better detection of atypical and/or cancerous cells, which has led to fewer deaths from cervical cancer. 

But wait.  So women should get Paps regularly.  Obviously.  Now, here’s an argument I have come across a few times, or something along these lines:  “Pap smears are great, but lots of women don’t get regular Paps!  This vaccine is here to protect them.”  Still, no one’s denying that Paps are still necessary, even with the vaccine.  My question is this:  If these people see women as neglecting their health screening, or being too busy to get in to see their doctor, why do they think these same women could make it into the office three times in less than a year?  I mean, getting to the doctor is getting to the doctor is getting to the doctor.  This reasoning is faulty. 

And so was Governor Rick Perry’s when he attempted to mandate the HPV vaccine back in 2007.  Perry mentioned that he could overlook the government encroachment on parents’ rights because he erred “firmly on the side of protecting life.”  Does Perry…wait.  Does anyone think that the majority of parents out there aren’t doing their damndest to protect their child’s life?  I mean, sure, there are crappy parents out there, crappy guardians, crappy grandparents, who don’t care much what happens to their wards.  But I stand by this.  Most parents are doing what they think is best for their child.  And when we’re informed, we can do that.  Lots of parents conclude that Gardasil or Cervarix is right for their child—but not all parents, and that’s their right. If we all know all the information, we should be free to take our own paths, right?  Right?  And even when folks don’t know all the information (I didn’t research anything my doctor told me to do before a couple of years ago), they still want what’s best and safest for their kids.  I did then, when I followed the recommended vaccination schedule, and I do now, when I will not be fully vaccinating my youngest.

SIDE EFFECTS.  Look, there’s a lot of stuff out there about how many people have been injured by or had reactions to Gardasil, according to the VAERS reports.  I’m aware that there’s no way to verify that the reactions were definitively caused by the vaccine.  Correlation does not equal causation and all that.  However.  For me and my kids, any risk of serious reactions is too high, especially when the vaccine has higher reaction/injury reports (link) than other vaccines. 

Currently in California, the HPV vaccine is being offered to 12 year-olds without their parents’ knowledge or consent.  Now, if a person has talked to their child about the vaccine and decided it’s the right choice for them or the wrong choice for them, it’s probably no big deal.  The kid can say yes or no according to what they and their guardian have decided.  But lots of folks don’t have all the information and they’re trusting that the school administration would not do something to harm their children.  And I can pretty much guarantee that the school nurse is not giving the tweens information on the VAERS or length of efficacy. 

Another thing that surprises me about the pro-choice, environmentalist, eco-feminist crowd I mingle with online is that they don’t question the vaccine, and all vaccines.  We are people who question every single thing that goes into our kids’ bodies.  Some people don’t allow their kids to have sugar—others forbid sugar substitutes.  A lot of us try not to use unnatural food dyes.  We check to see if there’s BPA in our plastic.  So it makes perfect sense to me that this crowd in particular would wonder about each and every thing that is ingested by or injected into our children, especially vaccines. But again and again I’ve found that those who advocate for informed consent in almost every other issue, are not OK with me deciding not to vaccinate. 

Since when did doctors become so elevated?  Lots of comments on articles against the HPV vaccine mention that doctors surely have more knowledge than us moms, so we should trust them.    

Let me get this straight.  We often get second opinions when we’re not sure a doctor is right or when we feel more eyes are needed on the situation. We remain wary of C-section-happy doctors.  Why, then, should our trust be blind when it comes to vaccines?  As in all occupations, even those which require much schooling, there are bad doctors.  Ill-informed doctors.  Stubborn doctors.  Asshole doctors. 

I really love it when I find an article on vaccination that is reasonable and rational.  Sharon Begley wrote a great one at The Daily Beast, which actually argues for the HPV vaccine, but acknowledges the opposition’s concerns instead of writing skeptics or anti-vaxxers off as ignorant or selfish.  Over at Evil Slut Clique, you can find two separate blog posts with information about Gardasil.  Check those out, because that’s what a real conversation about the HPV vaccine looks like.  I just don’t have any use for articles that slam doors and hurl insults.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions about Gardasil and every vaccine and medication—actually, it seems just the opposite to me.  I find Gardasil’s statement on the website telling:  “Only a doctor or health care professional can decide if GARDASIL is right for you or your child.”

Tanya DeBuff Wallette recently graduated with a master's degree in creative writing.  She is a contributing writer at Bark, and she blogs as Bess at Alala Mamas.  She is a feminist, a newlywed, and a free-range parent who works at home as a medical transcriptionist and in between doing that, writing, and reading, she works on raising three young children