If you’ve been here before, there’s a good chance you know I’m a fan of vaccines. I just think the science behind them is amazing. I have spent almost a decade reading up on them and the HPV vaccine is no exception. I started reading about it years ago, as it was being rolled out in Australia.
The thing I like about it is that it’s one of the few proven ways of preventing cancer. You can eat as many so called “superfoods” as you like but the truth is, there are only a few ways you actually can actively prevent cancer and this is one of them.
What does it actually protect against?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, which is a very common sexually transmitted infection. It usually causes no symptoms and goes away on it’s own however, it can be the precursor to something much more serious. HPV is responsible for:
- almost all cases of genital warts and cervical cancer
- 90% of anal cancers
- 65% of vaginal cancers
- 50% of vulva cancers
- 35% of penile cancers
- 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
There is no treatment for HPV, so prevention is our best bet. Prevention isn’t a one-step deal, however. Pap smear tests are still important for early detection of any problems in the lady regions and condoms also offer some protection- but not total protection, as there is still potential for genital skin contact. They are definitely a great option to help keep one safe from many STI’s as well as unwanted pregnancies, but when it comes to HPV, we now have another excellent weapon in our arsenal against it and that weapon is the vaccine.
The HPV Vaccine
The vaccine was initially developed right here in Australia. At the University of Queensland, Scientist and researcher Ian Frazer and the late Jian Zhou, a virologist, developed the idea for a HPV vaccine that uses virus-like particles. Generally, when we think vaccines, we often think of either dead or attenuated (severely weakend) viruses that we inject to produce an immune response which then offeres varying levels of protection from that particular disease. This vaccine is slightly different. Instead, it contains these virus-like particles which produce a strong immune response but can’t replicate in the body so are not infectious. Pretty cool, right? Anyway, there are 2 types- Gardasil and Cevarix. From what I understand, both protect against the main cancer causing strains but Gardasil also covers less dangerous types that cause genital warts, whereas Cevarix doesn’t cover those minor type ones.
There was a clinical trial of this vaccine called Females United to Unilaterally Reduce Endo/Ectocervical Disease (FUTURE). It involved over 12,167 women and roughly half were given the vaccine while the rest were given placebos, both administered at day one, month 2 and month 6. During the trial, an independant body called the Data Safety and Monitoring Board, recommended the trial be stopped on ethical grounds. That sounds bad, right? Wrong! They wanted it stopped so that those in the placebo group could be given the vaccine, because it was working so well. From all I have read, this is pretty rare and only happens when the benefits are well demonstrated. How awesome is that?!
What about boys?
Boys can get the HPV vaccine too and it’s definitely worth doing, from what I understand. HPV can have serious consequences for men as well- like anal, penile and oral/pharyngeal cancers. It’s best to get them vaccinated at 11-12 years of age when their immune response is highest and when they haven’t yet been exposed to HPV.
Is it safe and effective?
No vaccine is 100% safe or 100% effective- however, this vaccine is already showing very, very high rates of effectiveness– around 97% in clinical trials. Safety-wise, there are minor side effects like pain and redness at the injection site for some people and even fainting for a few. Serious side effects are rare– and on par with the rate of serious adverse reactions demonstrated by other vaccines. There have been no deaths directly linked to the vaccine in Australia, the U.S.A or Europe. Or anywhere else that I am aware of.
Wasn’t there some controversy…?
Isn’t there always? Google “Gardasil side effects” and the first link that comes up will take you to an article on Mercola.com. This is a website run by an American osteopath called Joseph Mercola who is very anti-vaccination, among other things (AIDS denialist also springs to mind- yes, that’s a thing.) There are other, more credible, results in the search list as well. Then another from a site called Health Impact News- a website devoted to conspiracies of the medical nature. Misinformation and fear-mongering is their bread and butter, as well as a side business selling coconut oil products and diets online. The editor, Brian Shilhavy, lists his qualifications as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible/Greek and a Master of Arts degree in linguistics. Which is well and good, but does it qualify him to tell you not to vaccinate? For me, the answer is a big NO. However, when it comes to science and medical degrees- I’m just as qualified as he is (or isn’t!) so don’t take my advice either. Instead, check out what the World Health Organisation has to say. Or the American Center for Disease Control. Or our own National Centre for Immunisation Research and Suveillance. In short, read up- but don’t trust just anyone who happens to have a website or blog. Read reputable sources and talk to your GP if you have any concerns.
It’s actually delivered to Australian students for free, as part of our vaccination schedule, at school. Or at the doctor’s office if your kid forgets to give you the note in time, like mine did.
So far, researchers have seen a significant decline overall in infections of genital warts and declines in HPV infections. As it’s only been in use for 8 years, it will be a while before we see the results in cervical cancer rates however there has been a drop in cervical lesions. Cervical lesions have been shown to be good predictors of cervical cancer so it’s all extremely promising!
This is the bit where I remind you that Big Pharma send me monthly cheques for being a vaccine shill, or something like that, right? I wish. Money does not shoot out of my computer when I post these things. Big Pharma, whoever he or she is, sends me not a cent. All opinions are my own.
I have to tell you, though, that the good people at Durex have sent me out some goodies. As mentioned above, condoms don’t offer total protection from HPV, though they can offer some. They also offer protection from other infections and a high level of protection from unplanned pregnancy, which makes them pretty fabulous in my book. Want some? For free?
For your chance to win a Durex prize pack containing condoms and massage gels, enter via this Rafflecopter thingy:
NB- Giveaway open to Australian Residents only. Pack contains condoms and massage gels.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess