As you may know, the first Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was released in 2006 along with a barrage of information from Merck and the FDA promoting the vaccination of young women ages 9–26. The media attention about the vaccine has raised concern in millions of women unnecessarily. Read on to learn about your risk of contracting cervical cancer from the virus. I also discuss why you’ll want to think long and hard about immunizing your daughter for HPV.
Does Your Daughter Need the HPV Vaccine?
In 2006, Merck received FDA approval to market the first Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, a genetically engineered vaccine that helps prevents four types of HPV viruses, including type 16 infection, one of the most common HPV type viruses implicated in cervical cancer. Other HPV vaccines are in the pipeline. With the approval of Gardasil, HPV and its link to cervical cancer was suddenly front page news around the world with a barrage of media ads marketing the vaccine heavily for women. The CDC quickly recommended vaccinating all women age 9–26 and even beyond. Overnight women with virtually no risk for cervical cancer (the vast majority) were suddenly made to feel vulnerable, thus creating a huge market for the vaccine.
Let me put the issue into much needed perspective. The risk of getting cervical cancer from HPV has been greatly overstated! Fifty to seventy-five percent of all people are exposed to HPV in their lifetimes. The virus clears spontaneously by the immune system within two years in over ninety percent of all women, posing no risk at all. Ho1 Woodman2 Nasiell3 Richart4 Though the vaccine undoubtedly has some value for some women, it is unnecessary, and may even be dangerous, to administer it to millions of girls and women in the United States.
The Numbers Speak for Themselves
There are an average of 9,710 new diagnoses of cervical cancer and 3,700 deaths from the disease in the United States each year, according to the CDC. Of these new cases, 70 percent are related to HPV. That’s about 6,797 cases per year. Over fourteen types of HPV are associated with cervical cancer. Gardasil protects against the HPV strains that are implicated in about 90 percent of cervical cancers, not 100 percent. That further reduces the number of cases of cervical cancer that might potentially be prevented with a vaccine to just under 6,200. And the vast majority of these cases could be prevented with improved nutrition, safe sex, and the kind of screening and early treatment that is already in place!
The HPV vaccine media blitz has overshadowed the fact that the incidence of cervical cancer has already decreased dramatically through routine cervical screening with pap smears and HPV (DNA) testing. For example, the National Health Service of England reports that the incidence of invasive cervical cancer fell by 42 percent between 1988 and 1997 in the U.K because of cervical cancer screening programs. The NHS reports that in 2000, there were 2,424 new cases of invasive cervical cancer, most of which are not fatal.
Abnormal Paps Are Common
Surveys suggest that about four percent of all pap smears will show an abnormality associated with HPV infection, which is known as atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS). Davey5 In the vast majority, further evaluation will fail to show any abnormality, and no further action is required. (This occurrence of “false positives” with Pap smears led to the development of the ThinPrep® Pap Test, which is more reliable but still not 100 percent accurate.) But five to ten percent of patients initially diagnosed with ASCUS actually have more worrisome cellular changes, known as high-grade, which must be followed closely and treated in some women. Manos6 Ascus7 The Department of Pathology, at the University of Alabama in Birmingham reviewed 39,661 pap and HPV tests from January 1, 2002 to December 31, 2003. Of these, 12 percent were diagnosed with ASCUS. High risk HPV (DNA) was detected in only 732 cases! Out of all of these, only six had persistent abnormal pap smears requiring repeat follow-up; five had evidence of cellular abnormalities; and four had low-grade cervical dysplasia or cellular changes associated with HPV. And only one had high-grade dysplasia, a more worrisome type of cellular change that is associated with a higher risk of actual cancer down the line if not treated.
The remaining patients all had negative pap smears. In other words, only a very small percentage of those with high risk HPV were found to have cervical abnormalities—which are not invasive cervical cancer and are treatable! Adams8
Vaccines Aren’t Entirely Safe
According to the National Vaccine Information Centers, “The FDA allowed Merck to use a potentially reactive aluminum containing placebo as a control for most trial participants, rather than a non-reactive saline solution placebo.” Merck9
Using a reactive placebo can artificially increase the appearance of safety of an experimental drug or vaccine in a clinical trial. Gardasil contains 225 mcg of aluminum and, although aluminum adjuvants have been used in vaccines for decades, they were never tested for safety in clinical trials. Merck and the FDA did not disclose how much aluminum was in the placebo 6.##food##
Whenever you vaccinate an individual, you’re intervening with their immunity. And that’s exactly what happened with Gardasil in the clinical trials. According to the Merck product insert, there was one case of juvenile arthritis, two cases of rheumatoid arthritis, five cases of arthritis, and one case of reactive arthritis out of 11,813 Gardasil recipients. There was also one case of lupus and two cases of arthritis out of the 9,701 patients who received the aluminum containing placebo. Investigators dismissed the total of 102 Gardasil and placebo-associated serious adverse events, including 17 deaths, that occurred during the clinical trials, claiming that they were unrelated. (It’s also not clear how many girls received the Hepatitis B vaccine in addition to Gardasil. Giving a couple vaccines at the same time can increase the risk of adverse outcomes.)
Regardless, there were 102 adverse events in 21,514 women and children who received the vaccine or the aluminum containing placebo. This translates to 474 adverse events per 1 million people getting vaccinated. Conservatively speaking, that’s 14,220 (474 x 30 million) adverse events expected if you were to give the vaccine as recommended to about 30 million women and girls—the approximate number of people in the target market for Gardasil. Is it worth it to make 14,220 girls and women sick in order to possibly prevent 6,200 cases of HPV-related cervical cancer?
The Bottom Line About HPV Vaccines
Remember, it is not HPV per se that causes the cancer. It’s the immune system’s inability to fight the virus that is the issue. The rapid, widespread, and unquestioning acceptance of the HPV vaccine as “the answer” to cervical cancer prevention speaks volumes about our cultural misunderstanding of the root causes of health and disease. On his deathbed, Louis Pasteur, the famous pioneer in the discovery of the role of germs in disease, said that Antoine Beauchamp, his rival, was correct. It was not the germ itself that caused disease, it was the environment, which Beauchamp had claimed all along.
While it is certainly laudable to want to decrease the incidence of invasive cervical cancer even further, and while this vaccine may be useful for some high-risk women and girls, it is far too early to subject millions to yet another vaccine. Especially when there’s so much we can do to shore up an individual’s immunity safely and effectively. For a complete program on how to do this, read Mother-Daughter Wisdom(Bantam, 2005).
Gardasil definitely isn’t free. It’s a staggering $360 per person. It’s administered in three shots, which must be given over six months. At this time, it doesn’t even guarantee immunity for longer than five years.
Gardasil will not eliminate the need for routine pap smears. And whether or not a woman opts for the vaccine, she should still protect herself from getting a sexually transmitted disease by using condoms, abstaining from intercourse, being discerning about her sexual partners, and also making sure her diet is rich in antioxidant nutrients that help her resist infections of all kinds.
Rather than relying solely on mass immunization programs that treat everyone as though they are at equal risk (which clearly isn’t the case), and which also promote the myth of universal vulnerability, it is far more prudent to optimize a woman’s nutrition and lifestyle so that her immune system is functioning optimally in the first place. This is especially true if she is one of the few who don’t clear HPV rapidly and spontaneously.
Moreover, if a woman has a persistent HPV infection, she has a problem with her immune system. The bottom line is: The depression of her immune system is what’s putting her at increased risk for cervical cancer. So while a vaccine might prevent cancer in one location, disease will manifest in another area if the root cause isn’t addressed. This is done by looking at a woman’s entire life—body, mind, and spirit.
So who really benefits by vaccinating approximately 30 million girls and women with a vaccine that costs about $360? Industry analysts point out that mandating the HPV vaccine for virtually all girls and women will make Gardasil the blockbuster that Merck needs to boost profits since it was forced to withdraw its arthritis drug Vioxx. I certainly agree. It is no secret that medical schools, researchers, the CDC, and even the FDA itself are increasingly controlled by drug company profits. So is the mainstream media. To learn the facts about this, I recommend the documentary film Money Talks: Profits before Patient Safety.
Learn More — Additional Resources
- Mother-Daughter Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
- Money Talks: Profits before Patient Safety
- Ho, G.Y., Bierman R., Beardsley, L., et. al., 1998. Natural history of cervicovaginal papillomavirus infection in young women, N Engl J Med, 338:423-428.
- Woodman, C.B., Collins, S., Winter, H., et. al., 2001. Natural history of cervical human papillomavirus infection in young women: a longitudinal cohort study, Lancet, 357:1831-1836.
- Nasiell, K., Nasiell, M., Vaclavinkova, V., 1983. Behavior of moderate cervical dysplasia during long-term follow-up, Obstet Gynecol, 61:609-614.
- Richart, R.M., Barron, B.A., 1969. A follow-up study of patients with cervical dysplasia, Am J Obstet Gynecol, 105:386-393.
- Davey, D.D., et. al., 2004. Implementation and reporting rates: 2003 practices of participants in the College of American Pathologists Interlaboratory Comparison Program in Cervicovaginal Cytology. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 128:1224-1229.
I’m an Spanish (I apologize if there are grammar mistakes) student of medicine, now I’m in my practice period (sixth grade), I’m doing my rotation in gynecology and obstetrics, this specialty has always called my attention. I’ve read your book “Women health, women wisdom”, and I really like it, moreover I’ve cried at some points because is a relief to me read about your work with women and all the experience you have. Sometimes I feel disgusted about how some doctors treat patients rudely, instead of giving them words that could calm them. So I really apreciate you really are capable of listening to your patients and truly connect with them.
I have to say that I’m not completely in favour of all your advices, in the field of vaccines for example, there is no evidence that vaccines can cause neurological damage, autism, diabetes… I think these advices that you are giving can create a negative emotion about health prevention, because people who trust you could feel stressed about which advice follow. I think we should promote breast feeding, good habits, clean our emotions and so on, but vaccines are another tool we have. I was the first skeptic when in 2006, started the vaccination against HPV, I didn’t get the vaccine because I thought it hasn’t been well proved, since then there have been several studies, which includes millions of patients, and all the side effects like for example some cases of Guillain Barre syndrome couldn’t be explained as has been caused by the vaccine. The only side effects were anaphylaxia, and syncope after vaccination. (This information came from the WHO paper of 2017 about the security of the vaccine).
I know vaccines are not the only method of prevention we should use, but it isn’t harmful if we include it in our system, I know in the case os HPV, exist an economic factor, but in several other vaccines there isn`t an economic profit behind the scenes, I think this battle against vaccines has little sense. I think we should continue to promote good habits, good nutrition, meditation etc. Also if there are contraindications for certain patients, we should inform them well about probable side efects, or prevent them for take the vaccination.
I’ve heard you in a conversation with W.Dyer that Poliomyelitis hasn’t been partially eradicated (in some places) thanks to the vaccination, the same happened with smallpox, I don’t know if I have misunderstand your words. Litte time ago we have hear in Spain, more concretely in Catalunya (where there are more skeptic people about vaccination) a case of one child who died from difteria because he hasn’t been vaccinated, the person who recommended not to vaccinate that child caused great harm to those parents ¡I imagine my future child dying for something that can be easily prevented!, my heart will be broken.
I think we should be skeptic with the advise of doctors, and develope our own intuition for our health, but this anti-vaccine trend has come too far in my point of view. When I was 20 years old I was suffering of headaches and backache, and my mother send me to an ostheopath, he gave me some homeophatic pills to get rid of the vaccines that I have had in my childhood, he thought that they were the responsible of my pains, the query cost me a fortune and so those pills. Now I’m doing more exercise and going to phisiotherapy, also swimming that really relieves me, those pills didn’t. I heard of some other practices, like giving injections to get ride of vaccines, that is nonsense.
I really apreciate your effort in giving women the best advice, I avoid contraceptive pills for my irregular period, because I think this have more to do with emotional stress, I passed from having periods of 50 or more days to 34, I also take omega-6 fatty acid with vitamine E (wich are components of onagra oil), I rather use preservatives for contraception than hormones, I wouldn’t recomend this practice for all women of course, but for me now is the best option. Also I observe how I feel in each part of the period, when I’m more creative or when I’m a bit depressed. When I became a doctor, I will recomend really explore the emotions that are behind the pain and the illness, but in a way the patient wouldn’t became guilty about her condition.
I would have been very fortunate I could have been doing my practice period with you as a teacher, I would have learn how to really empathize with patients. Sometimes I feel shy in front of patients, I really want to talk with them, and calm them when they are sad or stressed, in most circumstamces because the doctor has told them bad news and he or she hasn’t explained to them their condition, I feel divided in two worlds, one part of me disires to calm the patient and the other has fear. I think you have been through these emotions, I would be terribly fortunate if you can tell me something about your experiences.
Thank you for your wisdom.
my granddaughter “I am raising” has been dealing with warts on her hand since I have been caring for her. We use white vinager to treat them. She all so has been dealing with a chronic UTI since I have been caring for her. She does a white vinager soak evening. are this thing also in the HPV family? she is going to be eleven soon and I am going to have to start getting her prepare for her annual womens check ups.
Dear Dr. Northrup,
Do you have any advise about giving this to boys? I have declined and our doctor continues to recommend it as valuable. They start recommending it at age 10. I haven’t found as much information about this and boys. Thank you.
Hi Dr. Northrup,
My nurse practioner wanted my 17 year old daughter to have the HPV vaccine last year but I put it off till this year. Since I know from my own experience that the medical community are known to make mistakes and there can be negative consequences like the incompetent cervix I had due to my mother being given the DES drug. I am leaning towards not having her have it. I’ll also have her read the info in your site but she wants me to decide.
Yet my sister in her 10th year of her committed marriage got HPV cancer typein cervix,she had hysterectomy and didn’t need chemotherapy. Do you know of an explanation of this? Also, being in the medical field,she had yearly pap exams. Any tips of how to come to a decision?
Dear Dr. Northrup
What a brilliant article – thank you!! I have just cited it on my facebook page ‘Your health- in your hands’ having this morning been advised of the 200 cases of adverse reaction to the HPV vaccine in Kent alone.
Thank you so much.
with my very best wishes