How safe is Gardasil?

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Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine

Gardasil seems to be a safe vaccine, especially when weighed against the risks of cervical cancer. Gardasil protects against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Parents are appropriately concerned about vaccines, but vaccines are saving lives and improving the quality of our lives dramatically with every decade.

Gardasil was FDA approved and recommended in June of 2006. In the first five years of use, over 32 million doses of the vaccine were administered. There were over 17,000 adverse events reported, including roughly 1,000 serious events. The mild to moderate events (over 90%) include transient local swelling or pain, mild and moderate fevers, and nausea or fainting.

So what about the serious events, including 56 deaths? The serious events included primarily Guillain-Barre syndrome (a severe neurologic disorder) and blood clots. The numbers of GBS are no higher than expected in the age group receiving the vaccine, and the girls with blood clots typically had other risk factors for clotting, such as taking the birth control pill. Though deaths in young people are tragic regardless of the cause, there has been no identifiable pattern in these deaths to suggest that the vaccine caused them. If you look at any age population of 10 million people (32 million doses divided by the 3 shots in a series), sadly, you will see certain lethal cancers, neurological diseases, and other rare ailments.

It is important to understand that  to figure out side effects from vaccines, all events that happen within a month (or up to a year) after receiving an immunization can and should be reported- even if it looks like they are completely coincidental. Why? Because doctors want to be sure that there is not a relationship between any serious diseases and vaccines, and the only way to know is to collect all the data.

Bottom line: Remember that there are 1 million new cases of genital warts per year, 12,000 cases of cervical cancer, and 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer. Choosing to immunize  makes sense.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.