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HPV vaccination drug’s safety called into question

By Rebecca Hoart

Controversy surrounding the human papillomavirus vaccination drug, Gardasil, has been reignited by Minnesota Sen. Michele Bachmann’s comments.

In a Sept. 12 presidential debate, Bachmann criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for mandating the vaccination by saying the drug was dangerous and caused mental retardation.

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There is no scientific evidence that indicates the drugs are harmful, according to a news release issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in response to Bachmann’s comments.

“What Michele Bachmann said was inappropriate,” said UNF Visiting Professor Julie Baker-Townsend, a board certified women’s nurse practitioner.

She used a medical controversy for political reasons and confused a subject the public does not understand, Baker-Townsend said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention looks at every case reported and specifically monitors vaccine effects through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. They receive reports of possible side effects through the mail, by fax, and through the web from doctors, patients, family members or manufacturers at any time after a vaccine was given.

“This country has the most stringent drug approval systems in the world, and they are keeping you safe,” Baker-Townsend said.

Approximately 20 million Americans are infected with the HPV virus, with another 6 million becoming infected every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The center “strongly recommends” doctors give the vaccine to males and females.

The side effects of the HPV vaccination, such as redness or swelling at the injection site, are not serious, said Kyle Maxwell, a UNF nursing senior.

“The benefits outweigh any side effects,” she said.

The argument over the safety of the vaccination has weakened in the past few years.

“There have been no solid scientific studies that caused us to be concerned or recall any vaccines,” said Fred Ray, Lead MA for Solantic Baptist Urgent Care on Atlantic Blvd.

Ray said he sees a lot of patients who get the vaccine, and hasn’t had any complaints.

Three UNF students; Kalee Lowe, 19, Chelsey Rowe, 19, and Jessica Wright, 18, have all had their vaccinations, despite concern over potential side affects.

“I heard it causes infertility,” said Lowe.

Baker-Townsend said the fertility problem associated with HPV is related to medical cervical procedures performed due to abnormal Pap tests.

“Those procedures can cause problems with childbearing later in life,” she said. “But that can all be avoided by getting vaccinated against the four strains of HPV that cause these problems.”

There are over 30 types of HPV, but the two most dangerous are the strains named 16 and 18, which cause cervical cancer, Baker-Townsend said.

“The vaccination is also controversial because it targets girls as young as 9 years old,” Maxwell said.

In order for the vaccination to work, it must be administered before the patient becomes sexually active, Maxwell said.

“Unfortunately, kids are sexually active so much earlier,” she said.

Ray said Solantic considers 12 years old to be the optimal age. He said the vaccine is only useful when received before engaging in sexual activity.

Baker-Townsend said she stands behind the vaccine based on science, and hopes religious affiliations won’t prevent participation in the fight to stop cervical cancer.

“However, if your religion prohibits vaccines, I don’t think you should get them,” she said. “The vaccination is not a religious statement. It is a vaccine to cure cancer.”

“I haven’t been vaccinated,” said Dominique Mathis, a UNF nursing junior. “I think it depends on your faith and other issues whether you want to or not.”

Mathis said she does not believe the government should mandate the vaccinations.

“That would just cause issues with personal rights,” she said.

However, her peer disagrees.

“If it would eradicate cervical cancer, then yes, it should be mandated,” Maxwell said.

It is up to individuals to decide if they are in a high-risk situation, said Jamie Thomas, a UNF nursing junior.

“It depends on how worried you are,” she said.

Because there are no symptoms for men, who also carry the virus, all men should get vaccinated, too, said Sandy Petry, a UNF nursing senior.

“Even if you are in a committed relationship, you can only control yourself.”

If you vaccinate everyone, the disease will disappear. If you do not vaccinate everyone, including male carriers, you will never eradicate the disease, Baker-Townsend said.

“Think of society as a herd,” she said. “We have male carriers walking around who do not even know it.”

Education is the key to convincing the public of the benefits of vaccinations in general, said Kalli Sapp, a UNF nursing senior .

“My lack of knowledge and fear of side effects made me refuse to get the vaccination, and my practitioner failed to educate me.”

Jennifer Heuring, a UNF nursing senior, doesn’t trust anything politicians say on health issues.

“You can’t rely on politicians to give you the straight story.”

The return of whooping cough is evidence enough in favor of vaccinations, Baker-Townsend said.

“We nurse not only you, but your whole community.”

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