The reluctance of some mothers to allow their young daughters to receive Gardasil has more to do with concerns over the vaccine than their attitudes toward premarital sex, a small study has found. The study, conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, was partially funded by Merck & Co., the maker of Gardasil.
Gardasil was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2006. At the time of its approval, Merck said that clinical trials had proven the vaccine to be between 90-100% effective in preventing the transmission of some strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. Shortly after its approval, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a recommendation that all young girls between the ages of 11 and 12 receive the Gardasil vaccine.
Since the CDC recommendation, Merck has been aggressively marketing Gardasil. In at least 24 states, the company is trying to convince state legislatures to make Gardasil mandatory for young girls. One of those states was Texas, where mandatory Gardasil vaccination became the subject of a contentious debate in 2007. That year, Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order that would have required schoolgirls to be inoculated with it. Eventually, however, Perry’s order was overturned by the state legislature.
As the debate over Gardasil has grown louder, opponents of vaccination are often portrayed as social conservatives whose biggest concern is that girls will become sexually active once they receive it. But this new study indicates that such worries may have little to do with mothers’ attitudes towards Gardasil.
The study, published in the September Journal of Adolescent Health, surveyed about 150 mothers at a UTMB pediatric clinic in 2007. The women were of mixed background, both socioeconomically and ethnically. The study found that mothers who wanted their daughters to remain virgins until marriage were just as likely to have them get Gardasil as those who didn’t expect their daughters to wait until marriage to have sex.
Susan Rosenthal, a UTMB pediatric psychologist and the study’s lead author, said that , “Mothers who haven’t had their daughter vaccinated yet most often said they want more time to learn about the vaccine.”
The moms in the survey do have a point – there are many answered Gardasil questions. For one thing, there have been 9,749 adverse reactions following Gardasil and 21 reported deaths since 2006. Those side effects, which were reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) included 10 miscarriages, 78 severe outbreaks of genital warts and six cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can result in paralysis.
It is also not known how long the immunity from Gardasil lasts, and whether eliminating some strains of HPV will decrease the body’s own immunity to other strains. Finally, others have questioned the cost effectiveness of the expensive injections.