Pros and Cons of Using the Gardasil Vaccine

Pros and Cons of Using the Gardasil Vaccine

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Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 for the prevention of HPV.

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Human papillomavirus, or HPV, affects more than half of sexually active men and women at some point in their lives. HPV can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer in women and anal and throat cancers as well as genital warts in both sexes. According to the American Cancer Society, about 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, and more than 4,000 American women die of cervical cancer annually. A quadrivalent HPV vaccine, Gardasil, has yielded impressive results. You should discuss the pros and cons of the effectiveness, timing and overall safety of the vaccine with your doctor before getting vaccinated with Gardasil.


Gardasil has been shown to be highly effective against HPV genotypes 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and genotypes 6 and 11, which cause about 90 percent of genital wart cases, according to a September 2010 committee opinion by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. When given as a new vaccine, before the onset of sexual activity, Gardasil is close to 100 percent effective in reducing the risk of high-grade precancerous lesions and genital warts related to these infections, as reported in the March 2010 issue of the "Journal of the National Cancer Institute." Although Gardasil helps prevent important types of HPV infection, the vaccine does not protect against all types of the virus and is not a treatment for existing HPV infection, cancer or genital warts. Women who receive the vaccine should continue to have routine cancer screening, because 60 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in women who have not had Pap screening within 5 years, according to an April 1996 consensus statement from the National Institutes of Health.


Gardasil vaccination can be given at an early age and can protect a wide group of individuals. Routine Gardasil vaccination, which is given in three doses over a period of 6 months, is recommended for girls and boys 11 or 12 years old and may be given as early as age 9. Gardasil can also be given to girls and women between the ages of 13 and 26 years old who have not been vaccinated or who have not received all 3 doses. Girls and women who are already sexually active can still receive some benefit from Gardasil if they have not been vaccinated, as most will not have been exposed to all types of HPV. No evidence exists that Gardasil is effective after the age of 26. Some parents may feel that 9 years of age is too young to vaccinate against a sexually transmitted infection or worry that such protection will promote promiscuity. However, a study published in the November 2012 issue of "Pediatrics" concluded that HPV vaccination is not associated with an increase in clinical markers of sexual activity such as sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy.


Gardasil was tested in more than 11,000 women and has been found to be safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. More than 16 million doses of Gardasil have been distributed in the U.S., alone and the vast majority, about 94 percent, of the problems reported after vaccine use have not been serious, the CDC noted in 2008. As with any medication, Gardasil may cause an allergic reaction. The most common problems related to Gardasil administration are mild to moderate, such as pain or redness at the injection site, fever or headache. Some people experience a temporary feeling of faintness or dizziness. Seizure has been known to occur in rare cases.


If you develop symptoms that indicate hypersensitivity to the vaccine after receiving any of the 3 Gardasil doses, alert your doctor. These symptoms may include red flushing, hives or difficulty breathing. Most likely, you will not be able to receive further doses of the vaccine. The safety and effectiveness of HPV vaccines have not been established in pregnant women. The maker of Gardasil, Merck, is maintaining pregnancy registries to monitor outcomes in infants exposed to the vaccine during pregnancy.

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