Two things happened at about the same time a couple of weeks ago. First, I was asked to write a blog in support of HPV vaccination by the lovely Mackenzie Melton, MPH, the
Immunization Project Coordinator for Within Reach WA. Second, 12-year-old Meredith Prohaska died the same day she received an HPV shot. Obviously, there are no words to express the incredible sorrow and wrongness of her death.
There are, however, a few words to express the wrongness of concluding the HPV vaccination caused her death and those words are “correlation is not causation.” For those of you (like me, actually) who aren’t quite clear about what this means, I’m happy to spell it out.
Imagine I am wearing new underwear to work one day and I decide to show it off to my coworkers. And then I get fired. The reason I got fired is not because of my new underwear, but because I chose to show it off. In other words, the new underwear’s relationship to my firing (correlation) is incidental. The reason (cause) I was fired was the showing off, not the new underwear. I could wear new underwear every day and not get fired. Got it?
On to HPV. HPV can cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, back of tongue, back of throat and tonsils. It can also cause genital warts. You don’t have to have symptoms to pass it on and it’s amazingly easy to get. In fact, about 80% of sexually active adults have had it and it is the Number 1 sexually transmitted infection. You can read up about it’s nastiness here.
Of course, I wondered if anyone has definitely, absolutely died from receiving this cancer preventing vaccination and this is what I discovered: No. There’s an excellent expose on Snopes.com that takes this issue on. Here’s the most relevant excerpt:
From June 2006 to March 2013, approximately 57 million doses of HPV vaccines were distributed and Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) received approximately 22,000 adverse event reports occurring in girls and women who received them. As noted in a 2013 CDC follow-up announcement, 92% of those reports were classified as “non-serious,” the other 8% generally encompassed symptoms such as “headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, syncope, and generalized weakness,” and adverse events reported to VAERS were “consistent with those identified during the vaccine’s per-licensure clinical trials.”
You can read the whole thing here.
The last time I checked, 92% plus 8% equals 100% and this means no one died from the HPV vaccine. Yay! 100% no deaths sounds like an excellent track record to me. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but cancer tends to actually-factually kill people.
Your kids should start the series at age 11 or so – both boys and girls. Why so young? It’s usually before they are sexually active at all so they have a clean slate. When you talk to them about it, be clear HPV is sexually transmitted, it’s incredibly easy to get and it can cause cancer. If you don’t know how to explain what an STI is, you can learn how here.