Study: HPV Vaccine Is Safe for Women and Girls

Gardasil is one way to treat infection.

Posted: 10/09/2012 07:09 PM EDT

Did you know that African-American women are 40 percent more likely to develop cervical cancer caused by the STD human papillomavirus (HPV) and 20 percent more likely to die from it compared to white women? And while HPV usually clears up on its own in most women in a few years, a recent study found that the virus takes longer to clear up in Black women.

There is some good news though.

Gardasil, a three-dose HPV vaccine, is one way to prevent infection. Gardasil protects women (and boys) against the four strains of HPV, two that are known to cause cervical cancer in women. These shots are currently recommended for young girls and women between 11 and 26, who never received HPV shots when they were younger.  

But over the years, there has been controversy about the drug’s safety, which was only exacerbated last September by unfounded comments by Minnesota Republican Sen. Michele Bachmann claiming that Gardasil caused “mental retardation.”

A recent study, funded by the vaccine’s makers, debunked Bachmann’s and other critics’ claims. It found that the HPV vaccine only has minor side effects including fainting.

Researchers looked at the medical records of 189,629 girls and women ages 9 to 26 who received at least one dose of the vaccine and 44,000 participants who had received the recommended three doses of the vaccine, and found the following, according to Time.com:

Aside from some episodes of fainting and skin infections, the authors found no other safety concerns. There were some reports of seizures and allergic reactions, but a five-member safety committee of medical experts with no ties to the Kaiser study team or Merck and Co., which funded the study, concluded that these reactions were not related to the vaccine.

The authors noted that some skin infections could simply be swelling at the injection site, a possible short-term reaction that is included in the vaccine’s safety information. Further, fainting is a somewhat common side effect of vaccines in general, not just the HPV vaccine, the authors said. “We think this is a very reassuring study,” says study author Dr. Nicola Klein of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif. “We looked at many women and girls and found no safety concerns.”

Gardasil was first put on the market in 2006, and despite catchy commercials and print ads, African-American girls are least likely to receive the vaccine. A 2009 study found that only one in four have received the vaccine. High costs (the set of three shots required can cost up to $390 and not all insurances cover it), cultural objections and lack of access to health care have been noted as reasons why Black girls and teens are not getting the shots.

Learn more about HPV and how to prevent contracting the virus here.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

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