Over the years there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine. If your daughter is between the ages of 9 and 12 your family physician may have brought up the benefits of vaccinating your daughter against HPV already and many schools send home information about HPV vaccination around this time.
I didn’t know until just a few days ago that the State of Rhode Island (RI) has been requiring boys and girls to receive the vaccine in order to attend school for the past year. It gave me pause, because it’s my opinion that parents should have the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate their children against a sexually transmitted disease.
This came to my attention because I saw a headline associating the HPV vaccine with premature ovarian failure in young women.
The first thing I asked was “Is this true?” I’ve come across this type of frightening headline before. Back in 2009 there were reports about an aggressive form of juvenile ALS in the news along with reports of premature deaths. I mean this is scary stuff, right?
Now, I’m certainly not an expert on vaccines but I have been paying attention over the years. So I decided to dig a little deeper into this latest headline and I thought I would share what I found with you.
But first, let me start off by saying, I don’t have an opinion either way on whether or not you chose to vaccinate your children against HPV. I’m here to educate and I do my best to rely on unbiased scientific information (meaning I don’t see any conflicts of interest) and there may be questions that we don’t have good answers for yet.
I will also say that I’ve had personal experience with HPV and while it’s not a particularly enjoyable thing to be diagnosed with (stigma of an STD, invasive and/or unpleasant treatments, etc) it is VERY treatable and it is unlikely to progress to cervical cancer assuming that one obtains regular PAP smears and if there’s a problem… do something about it.
What is HPV anyway?
HPV is the Human Papilloma Virus and there are around 150 different strains of the virus, 30-40 of which can affect the genitals/reproductive system. In plain terms, it is the virus that causes warts on various parts of the body. This post is limited the strains of HPV that are transmitted sexually.
Of the 30+ strains of HPV that affect the genitals, some cause warts that are visible to the naked eye and others cause changes that are only observable through microscopic examination. The ones you can’t easily see are most problematic.
Strains of HPV which affect the reproductive tract are broken into two categories… high risk and low risk. The high risk ones are most likely to cause problems with a women’s cervix and are more likely to progress to cancer. Low risk strains are more likely to cause visible warts and are unlikely to progress to cancer.
In general, cervical cancer develops very slowly, often taking decades to progress to cancer. However, HPV 16 has been known to cause cancer in as little as 18 months, which is why annual screening is important.
I’m really pleased that technology has evolved to the point where we can determine which strains of HPV are present. This information can help the patient decide how they’d like to move forward after receiving a positive HPV diagnosis.
Testing for HPV
HPV testing offered by your doctor is done with your PAP smear and can identify high risk or low risk strains of HPV, but is still general because they just lump the viruses into these two general categories. Doctors can also request a test to determine if you have HPV 16, 18 or 45 but this test can’t pinpoint which of the strains you have exactly.
If you are over the age of 35 years old, you can request a HPV DNA test and they have to test it during your PAP smear (you have to ask for it) and it’s covered under your Well Woman exam.
Unfortunately, doctors don’t have any tests available to test for HPV in men.
Alternative HPV testing
There is also HPV DNA testing available which can tell you EXACTLY which strain of HPV you have but it’s not something that medical doctors currently offer because this level of specific information won’t change their recommendations and so it doesn’t matter to them which of the high risk strains you have because it’s all treated the same way.
For those of us who opt to take an alternative approach to address the cervical changes caused by HPV (like I did) having this additional information can be very helpful. For example, someone who knows they have HPV 16 (most likely to cause cancer) may opt to treat it more aggressively than if they had a high risk strain that isn’t as likely to cause cervical cancer.
The lab also has a separate test available that gives information on how likely the HPV infection is to go away on its own or progress to something more serious. It’s all great information in my opinion. I’m all for people making empowered decisions when it comes to their health and well being.
One of the cool things about this new FDA approved HPV test is that you can collect the sample at home, you don’t need a doctor and you can test your vagina, vulva, anus, and oral cavity AND they have the ONLY test available to detect HPV in men. If you’d like to learn more about them or order a test for yourself or someone you love, their website is here. Use coupon code: FertilityDeva for 10% off your order.
Getting back to the vaccine, let’s talk about reasons to vaccinate….
- There are millions of new cases of HPV every year. It is THE MOST COMMON STD of our time. It is hard to detect… doctors don’t have tests available to test men for the virus. So unless you ask them if anyone they’ve slept with has ever had an abnormal PAP smear there’s really no way to know. (Unless you order the test I mentioned above.)
- In addition to cervical cancer, HPV has been present in those diagnosed with oral and throat cancers (most likely from oral sex), anal, penile, vaginal and vulva cancers.
- Even if infected with HPV through sexual contact, you may not have antibodies show up in the blood the way they do when someone has been vaccinated so it is possible to be re-infected with the same strain of the virus with future partners. (There some debate on whether the body can actually clear the virus or if it hides in the tissues laying dormant until your immune system is weakened and it flares up again.)
- Overall, the vaccine appears to be safe and well tolerated.
- Some of the treatments used to remove abnormal cervical tissue can put future fertility at risk. Repeated cone biopsies can damage the cervix and make carrying a pregnancy to term difficult (they basically sew the cervix shut and put you on bed rest to deal with this problem) and in more advanced cases the surgical removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) may be called for, ending any opportunity for pregnancy.
- Condoms don’t provide 100% protection because the virus is transmitted via skin on skin contact.
- There are three different vaccines, the most commonly used is Gardasil-4 which protects against the two main cancer causing strains – HPV 16 and 18 plus the two most likely to cause warts – HPV 6 and 11. Now there’s a new vaccine that protects against more of the high risk strains. Gardasil-9 which protects against HPV Types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
Reasons Not to Vaccinate….
- HPV infections often clear on their own within 1-2 years. Those that do not clear are easily treated and rarely progress to cervical cancer.
- It’s still a fairly new vaccine and doesn’t protect against all strains of HPV. We’re not sure how long immunity will last, although it seems that those who were vaccinated first still have immunity and researchers estimate immunity will last 20 years or longer.
- As with any vaccine, sometimes there are negative effects. Most are benign and pass quickly but sometimes there are effects which linger and occasionally there are questions as to whether or not the vaccine triggered some sort of long term negative response. However, when serious events occur it’s often hard to pin what happened on the vaccine itself and I’ll mention some of these instances in a moment.
- Condoms can help prevent the spread of HPV and female condoms provide better protection because of greater coverage.
So Is It True?
Back to my original question… is it true that the HPV vaccine can cause premature ovarian failure (POF) also known as Primary Ovary Insufficiency or early menopause?
It’s hard to say but what we do know is that 1 in 100 women experience POF and in most cases doctors are not able to figure out why it’s happening. We also know that POF can occur in teenage girls but it is rare. POF is different than amenorrhea (absent menstruation) because it has the characteristics of menopause which are identified by an elevated FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) blood tests are present.
The literature cites 6 cases of POF in association with the HPV vaccine but again, it’s impossible to say if this was something that was going to happen to these girls anyway or if it was brought on by the vaccine. With over 170 million girls and boys currently vaccinated, 6 cases of POF doesn’t seem like a lot when one out of every 100 women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with this problem.
What about the 3 cases of aggressive juvenile ALS that have been reportedly caused by the HPV vaccine? Again, it’s hard to say for certain when only 1 in 2 million children are affected by this disease. This means that out of the 170 million youth that have been vaccinated for HPV, up to 42.5 individual kids could be diagnosed with ALS and still be within what we would expect statistically speaking. In my brief search, I saw the database currently has a total of 8 cases of ALS being reported (but only the aggressive cases seem to be discussed).
How about the deaths that have been reportedly caused by the vaccine? Again, we run into the same issue. Unfortunately, people die all the time including babies and children. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database from which this raw data is drawn from has some significant shortcomings as explained in a couple of the articles linked below. But in a nutshell, a black eye given by your little brother could be blamed on the vaccine because the details of the case are not taken into account in the raw data.
Researchers have found upon further investigations into the deaths that occurred after the vaccine was given that “no deaths from the introduction of the two vaccines have been attributed to HPV vaccination, but some cases have been poorly investigated leaving room for speculation”.(1) I came across an article which listed what the deaths were caused by but I neglected to save the link and couldn’t find it again. Some of the causes of death listed were things like diabetes which can be fatal especially with poorly managed blood sugar or when undiagnosed.
So if these adverse events are being disproved then why do they keep coming to light?
It’s a great question and its due largely to the ease of making information available on the internet… let’s face it, anyone can start a blog and write whatever they want. It turns out; often the sources for this information have an alternative agenda – political and/or moral. The primary allegation is put forth by one individual or organization and picked up and distorted from there which is why it’s important to trace the information back to its source. Often a story can be traced back to a single source.
Let’s take a look at the claim that the HPV vaccine is causing POF in young women. The source of this information is The American College of Pediatrics (ACP) – this organization is a breakaway group from the nationally known and respected American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). According to what I read, the ACP was formed when a group of roughly 150 members left the AAP (which has over 60,000 members) over a disagreement about same-sex parenting. The AAP didn’t have a problem with same-sex couples parenting while the ACP disagreed and took a moral and political stance on this issue and many others including supporting abstinence only education which we know doesn’t work and can lead to increased incidence of unintended pregnancy and STDs.
One of the reasons that the HPV is seen as controversial is because of the false assumption that the vaccine will be seen by the child as a green light to go and have sex, essentially giving the child permission to be promiscuous. (This is where you and the important conversations about sex, relationships and growing up come in…. you lay the foundation.)
There are plenty of reasons to vaccinate and not to vaccinate. I recommend doing your homework but be aware that some people and companies have their own agenda. Look at who is behind the claims… are there any personal agendas or conflicts of interest? For example, you may come across Dr. Deirdre Little making arguments against HPV vaccination, but what you may not know she is also on the board of advisors for an Australian anti-abortion group. You know that the drug companies making the vaccine are getting incredibly rich from the sales of their products and will do their best to make sure their drug makes it to market. The FDA is supposed to be protecting the consumer but it’s hard to know for certain when our Presidents keep putting Monsanto-type cronies in charge. (Both republicans and democrats are guilty of this).
I know that every time I do research into the HPV vaccine I feel like I’m opening a HUGE can of worms and it’s hard to know what’s really true.
Speaking of vaccines, here’s something else that came across my radar a few days ago… research pointing the finger at Tylenol use during pregnancy causing behavioral problems like ADHD(2). The MMR vaccine is often blamed for autism, ADD and ADHD, so what’s really to blame? Are we sure that it’s the vaccine causing the issue or could it be something else that we haven’t explored yet? Is it a combination of factors? We are living in a toxic soup of chemicals and our immune systems are being hit from every angle even in the womb.
I do think it’s possible that someone can react poorly to any vaccine and suffer lasting negative effects. I think it’s possible that the vaccine can trigger something which may have been preexisting. We know the vaccine is causing a reaction in the body, it’s triggering the immune system to react.
Here’s a story unrelated to vaccines which illustrates this….
Not long ago, I was in a relationship with a guy who got sick when eating at national Italian restaurant chain a few years before I met him. During his illness he developed a headache which NEVER went away.
We don’t know if he acquired a virus while dining there or if he picked up the illness somewhere else since his friend didn’t get sick. We also don’t know if he was predisposed to something like this happening but there is a family history of mental illness.
So was his head problem caused by the food he ate? Or did the illness flip a preexisting switch in his brain that turned this persistent headache on?
We do know that millions of people still eat at this restaurant chain and don’t get an unrelenting headache that persists for years. Maybe if he had eaten at home that day, his life would have been completely different and he’d still be around. Or maybe the headache would have developed anyway. We will never know. I know he blamed the restaurant.
When serious events occur in the weeks, months or years following vaccination it’s often not possible to know for certain if the vaccine caused the problem or just flipped a preexisting switch. Either way, it can be devastating.
Your child and you get to decide (unless you live in RI)….
As a parent, you have to weigh the risks. HPV is EXTREMELY common and condoms don’t provide 100% protection. It can cause cervical cancer but there are detectable changes that can be identified with regular screening and addressed successfully with the help of your medical doctor or a Naturopathic physician if it doesn’t clear up on its own.
I was trying to decide… if I could go back in time and get a HPV vaccination when I was a teen (it wasn’t an option back then), would I do it or would I have wanted my mom to decide to have it done? While I really don’t like needles and dealing with an HPV infection does kind of suck, I’m not sure.
Overall, I think I’d rather not deal with having HPV but if everything happened exactly the same way and I was vaccinated, I would still test positive for HPV because one of the two strains that I was infected with is not covered by the vaccine but I may not have experienced changes in my cervical cells if I had been protected against HPV 18.
If I had been more diligent with using condoms, then it’s a lot more likely that I would never have been infected with HPV in the first place.
Honestly, even though condoms may not offer 100% protection, I believe they are our GREATEST asset in the fight against the transmission of HPV.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you going to vaccinate your children against HPV? Have you already? What are your thoughts on mandatory HPV vaccination? Post them in the comments below.