Study: HPV Vaccine Mostly Safe
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.
There's a new report on health problems associated with the vaccine against HPV - that's the human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer. The vaccine has been controversial since it was licensed two years ago. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is still safe. And the CDC is still recommending that girls and young women get it.
NPR's Brenda Wilson has that story.
BRENDA WILSON: In the U.S., if a girl or a young woman who got the HPV vaccine experiences any health problem at all, the incident is reported to the CDC. The collected data is an early warning system. So far, there's no cause for alarm.
In this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, the CDC says that over 12,000 incidents, including 32 deaths, related to the HPV vaccine have been reported so far.
Dr. Barbara Slade is a medical officer in the CDC's Immunization Safety Office.
Dr. BARBARA SLADE (Medical Officer, CDC Immunization Safety Office): It still appears that the vaccine is safe and that the benefits outweigh the risks. And the benefit is that it will prevent infection with the most common types of the virus that cause cervical cancer.
WILSON: And each year in the United States, 4,000 women die of cervical cancer. Slade says there were a variety of causes for the deaths of the women who got the HPV vaccine that were not related to the vaccine.
Dr. SLADE: There were some drug-related deaths. There was a case of meningitis related to the vaccine that kids get. So we look at things and look for patterns or some unusual, very rare clinical syndrome associated, and we just didn't see that in the vaccine.
WILSON: The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC are investigating two deaths which did seem unusual. They were caused by a neurologic condition similar to Lou Gehrig's disease that doesn't normally kill people in their teens and 20s. And Slade says they were concerned that there appeared to be an increased number of deaths related to blood clots.
Dr. SLADE: All of these people had a known risk factor for having blood clots. Most commonly was that they were on some sort of estrogen birth control. But obesity, traveling, immobility and some of these people had genetic risk factors for getting - for having blood clots, as well.
WILSON: None of these issues caused a change of opinion about the vaccine for Dr. Neal Halsey. He's a pediatrician and the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. NEAL HALSEY (Director, Institute for Vaccine Safety, Johns Hopkins University): And I'm certain that is by far and away the safest thing one can do with young children today. Had my children been young enough to get the vaccine, I would certainly make sure they get the vaccine.
WILSON: The most serious side effect linked to the vaccine was fainting. To put things into perspective, Dr. Halsey reminds us that people of all ages have health problems and all people die, even young people the age of those who got the vaccine.
Dr. HALSEY: So it's not surprising that there are some of those cases in the report of all the bad things that have happened to people who've received the vaccine. To the best of my knowledge, there's no evidence that any of those deaths have been causally related to the vaccine.
WILSON: Brenda Wilson, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.