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Should Your Child Get the HPV Vaccine?

What to know if you're debating the risks and benefits of HPV vaccination for your son or daughter.

HPV Vaccine's Safety Record continued...

However, says Claudia Vellozzi, MD, deputy director of the CDC's Immunization Safety Office, the HPV vaccine has been shown to be as safe as meningitis and Tdap vaccines.

VAERS, Vellozi points out, is a passive reporting system, so there is no way to know if the vaccines caused the adverse events. Also, she says, VAERS is subject to underreporting and simultaneous reporting.  

That is, there's no way to know if the vaccines caused the adverse events, or whether the numbers are on point.

"In our review of available vaccine safety data, FDA and CDC have concluded that the benefits of HPV vaccination continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine is recommended," Vellozzi says.

As of September 2010, about 32 million doses of Gardasil had been distributed in the U.S.

In October, after reviewing reports from managed care organizations that tracked millions of patients who'd received Gardasil -- about 600,000 doses -- the CDC again concluded that Gardasil poses no serious health problems. The analysis looked at side effects within 42 days of the shot.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is also reviewing adverse events of several vaccines introduced since 1997, including HPV vaccines. Its findings are due in June.

Finding Middle Ground

Time will tell how safe any vaccine is, says Karen Smith-McCune, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. Smith-McCune, a gynecologist, was an early and vocal skeptic of the HPV vaccine.

"This is a new product. It is possible there are risks that have not come to light yet because of the newness of the product, and that's what VAERS is for: to assure us we haven't missed something unknown. We don't know about safety until something's been around a long time," she says. "It's valid for parents to ask why they should do it."

Smith-McCune says she resisted the adoption of the HPV vaccine early on because cervical cancer is quite rare and preventable in females who get regular pap smears. And most of the time, the body fights off HPV without harm. She says she feels the vaccine was "shoved down our throats, as parents."

Today, Smith-McCune says research has convinced her that the HPV vaccines reduces precancerous conditions and abnormal pap smears -- not earth-shaking, but significant. Women who get the vaccine will have fewer visits to the doctor, she says.

"A lot of people get [Pap smears] and have abnormalities that need to be evaluated and treated," says Smith-McCune. "To give a vaccine for a cancer that is not likely may be good, but reducing irregular Paps is a benefit."

Reviewed on January 25, 2011

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