Gardasil Vaccine

August 01, 2006

by Jennifer Rubel with background research by Dr. Debra Ravasia

Northwest Woman

When considering vaccines many of us think about protecting ourselves and our children from illnesses that are now almost obsolete. Vaccines have wiped out illnesses such as smallpox, measles, mumps and rubella. We begin administering vaccines to everyone as children and now these illnesses are no longer an issue. What if we could say the same about a form of cancer? What if you had the ability to protect your daughter from being a victim of cancer?

What is a vaccine exactly? The Biotech Institute defines it as: a preparation that contains an antigen, consisting of whole disease causing organisms (killed or weakened) or parts of such organisms. That is used, to confer immunity against the disease that the organisms cause.

After five years of study, the FDA has recently approved a new vaccine. This vaccine appears to be 100% effective in preventing moderate and severe cervical pre-cancer, cervical cancer and genital warts caused by the four most common kinds of HPV. The new vaccine is called Gardasil, and is only 100% effective as long as it is administered before the onset of sexual activity. To sum this all up, Gardasil has the potential to prevent up to 70% of cervical cancer cases.

Local mother of two, Kristen Twiggs is concerned about, “the false sense of protection” Gardasil may bring. “I believe it is inappropriate to give a young girl this vaccine and talk about sex and not abstinence. We need to show them (our daughters) all of the options. It can be easy to forget the always 100% effective result of abstinence.” As a mother, Twiggs stated that she would not give her daughter this vaccine at age nine. However, she would allow her daughter to make the decision for herself when she became of age.

There are more than 100 different types of Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV) that have been discovered so far. Out of that 100+, thirty of those have been found in the vagina and fifteen of these have been known to result in cervical cancer. Gardasil targets the four strains of HPV that most commonly cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Furthermore, “at least 50% of sexually active women in the U.S. will develop an HPV” states Jane Weaver, Health Editor for MSNBC.

For some, Gardasil may just be another vaccine to add to the long list of others that your insurance will cover, but for others, mainly young women ages 9-26, this new vaccine brings the hope of living a healthy life without having to experience the consequences of some of the most common HPVs.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 9,710 new cases of cervical cancer and 3,700 deaths from this disease in 2006. Worldwide more than a quarter of a million woman die annually of cervical cancer. What makes these numbers even more alarming is the fact that many of these cases would not progress as far if more women would take their yearly exams more seriously. In the United States 33% of uninsured females and 13% of insured females have not had the recommended PAP test in the last 3 years. This year 13,000 women in the U.S. will find out that they have cervical cancer. These numbers will plummet if women followed routine healthcare. A PAP can save your life. It is the earliest way to detect cervical cancer.

There are many factors that contribute to women’s health. While this vaccine itself is not that exciting, the potential it has to make such a huge difference in so many women’s lives is astronomical. It is vital that we understand that the vaccine does not protect against other high risk HPVs. PAP smears and other precautions fighting against STDs such as abstinence and barrier contraception are very important in minimizing the risks of cervical cancer.

After receiving the vaccine, Gardasil, is recommended that females who receive the HPV vaccine wait until the usual recommended age to receive their first PAP. Current recommendations state that PAPs should begin no later than 3 years after the onset of sexual activity, or at age 21, whichever comes first. The vaccine is a preventative tool and not considered a substitute for cancer screening with PAP smears. Administration of the vaccine Gardasil does not by any means negate need for an annual physical as well as regular PAP smears as per current guidelines.

“I wish this vaccine was around before I became sexually active,” says Laura Lane, age 23. “I think as long as parents are open with their kids about the consequences of being sexually active, then the vaccine is in no way giving kids the green light to having sex. It is just helping prevent a disease they could contract later on in life (without even being sexually active before marriage) from their future spouse. There are other things like pregnancy that the vaccine can not protect against.”

The vaccine Gardasil is widely available this year and brings up important issues to begin thinking about. This gives you the opportunity to begin having some important conversations with your children and your physicians. This will enable you to make the choice that is most appropriate for your situation when the time comes.

Research provided by Dr. Debra Ravasia