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Should a Parent have a Child Vaccinated against Cervical Cancer

Should your young daughter be vaccinated against Cervical cancer?

We’ve all seen the commercials. The new cervical cancer vaccine marketed under the name Gardasil is advertised as the only cervical cancer vaccine that protects against strains of the human papilloma virus, or HPV. How much do parents know about this vaccine? Who needs to be vaccinated? How does this vaccine work and is it necessary for young girls and preteens? Are parents being advice to have their daughters vaccinated for sound reasons or in an endeavor to make money? These are some of the questions facing the parents of young girls.

There is no doubt that cervical cancer is a deadly killer among women. It is estimated that this type of cancer kills approximately 4,000 women annually in the United States alone. Worldwide there were about 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the year 2005, according to the World Health Organization.

Gardasil is currently the only vaccine licensed to be used in girls and women ages 9-26. It works by blocking two cancer-causing types of HPV types 16 and 18 in order to fight at the root cause of the cancer itself. In this way the vaccine is said to halt the cancer before it can begin. New data reports that this vaccine partially blocks infection by at least 10 strains of the virus causing cervical cancer plus the four types targeted by the vaccine.

The vaccine Gardasil is given in a series of three injections over a six month period. The second dose is administered two months after the first dose, and finally the third dose four months later. In clinical trials, researchers found that the levels of antibody raise in women with each dose of the vaccine. It is highly recommended that a catch-up immunization be given to those who failed to have the complete series of the vaccine.

The side effects of this vaccine seem to be mild and safe. The most common complaint thus far has been soreness in the upper arm where the injection site is located. Low grade fever and flu-like symptoms also appear to be common. The side effects did not constitute the series of the vaccination to be discontinued in the clinical trials performed. Also reported were 3 instances of Guillain-Barr syndrome which is a type of temporary paralysis that can last several weeks or months, and 3 cases of paralysis of the facial nerve. It should be noted that there is no evidence that these conditions were a result of the vaccine itself.

The cervical cancer vaccine is recommended for girls 11 to 12 and as early as 9 years of age. “Why so young? ” you may ask. The reason given is to allow the young girl’s immune system to be activated before an encounter with HPV. In actuality, this means that doctors feel the vaccine should be given before a girl becomes sexually active. According to Janet Gilsdorf, M.D., director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital , ” By 15 years of age, about 25% of American young people have become sexually active . And by age 17, 50% have already done so. “Nonetheless this vaccine focuses on younger girls between “11 and 12 years because most girls have not had sex at that age.” she remarks.

It should be acknowledged that the vaccine is most effective for women who haven’t been exposed to any of the 4 HPV strains included in the vaccine. It is important to remember that this vaccine does not treat cases of HPV, genital warts, precancer or cancers of any type already existing.

Women should maintain a regular schedule for Pap tests, pelvic examines and other preventative health care checkups especially if they were sexually active before receiving the vaccine and who possibly acquired one of the 4 HPV types for which the vaccine protects against.

Under consideration by a number of states and locations are policies about the administration of the vaccine. Whether or not the cervical cancer vaccine should be a part of the routine vaccinations required for school enrollment remains to be decided on by means of a state-by-state evaluation.

Are doctors and companies such as Merck & Co. Inc, the makers of Garasil really interested in your daughter’s welfare or the money in their pocket? You decide. The cost for each of the 3 shots amount to $120 each adding up to $360 for the complete vaccine. Sadly, Merck was accused of a behind-the-scenes campaign to get states to require 6th. grade girls to receive the vaccine in order to attend school. Merck has since ended that campaign.Although some insurance companies are beginning to cover the high cost, it is feared that many won’t receive the vaccine because of the price tag. There exists federal programs such as Vaccines for Children Program that provide the vaccination free of charge to girls younger than 19 who are uninsured , eligible for Medicaid , American Indian or Alaska Native.

Garasil is approved for sale in 85 countries and waiting approval in 40 more with about $1 billion in sales since it was launched in the U.S. in June of 2006. The race to develop similar vaccines is headed by GlaxoSmithKline PLC with its brand, Cervarix.

Linda Johnson Associated Press
Carolyn Kleiner Butler content provided by Revolution Health Group
Bobbie Gostout, M.D. Mayo Clinic