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Big Pharma pushes ‘virgin vaccination’

Merck, the company that manufactures the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, has an interesting approach to selling the product. You may have seen the television commercials — young women asserting that they will be “one less” girl infected with HPV or cervical cancer.

Merck’s latest campaign outdoes itself. The target for this vaccine, meant to protect women from a sexually transmitted disease, is girls that Merck recommends receiving the shot as young as 9 years old. They call it the “virgin vaccination program.”

Young girls are not the company’s only target. Originally the vaccine was advertised for women ages 11 to 26, but as the drug proves itself profitable, Merck seeks a larger market. Merck recommends that young boys also receive the vaccine to ensure they will not become carriers of the HPV virus. And the company is currently advocating for the vaccination of older women as well.

The vaccine is marketed as “the only cervical cancer vaccine that helps protect against four types of human papillomavirus: two types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and two more types that cause 90 percent of genital warts cases.”

However, recently, Dr. Diane Harper, the lead researcher for the creation of Gardasil, spoke out against the vaccine, calling it “unnecessary.”

Of HPV infections, she says 90 percent run their own course, without medication, within two years of receiving the infection. Of the 10 percent of women who continue to carry the virus after that period of time, only half will see the virus develop into cervical cancer.

This is not to make light of the 5 percent of women who do develop cervical cancer, and Harper claims that there is “little need for the vaccine” because of the established prevention and early detection protocols. Pap smears and other basic screenings, when employed as intended depending on your age and health, can detect cervical cancer in women, and once detected, it is a treatable disease.

Still, a vaccination for cancer seems like a smart option for women. Mothers and their daughters are told in the doctor’s office that it is better to be safe and protected than sorry later on. They are not informed of the drug’s side effects, which are receiving little attention from physicians or the media.

The side effects that Gardasil warns against are headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and fainting. In addition, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has received more than 18,000 reports of various additional side effects connected to the vaccine. The side effects include the development of lupus, seizures, blood clots, brain inflammation, heart problem, paralysis and potentially, death. As of June 22, 2011, VAERS reported 68 deaths thought to be associated with receiving the Gardasil vaccination, 32 confirmed.

Mothers and daughters alike have been suffering the side effects of this vaccination, but these are consequences you’ve likely not heard of. You’ve seen the commercials on television, but the tragic stories are hidden from consumers.

And little girls polluting their bodies with this vaccine may not even be protected from HPV. The drug was released in 2006, and its effects have yet to be tracked beyond the five years it has been on the market. New studies are emerging, suggesting the vaccine may wear off after five to seven years.

Dr. Harper suggests to consumers, “The rate of serious adverse events is greater than the incidence rate of cervical cancer.” But this is not what young girls and their parents are told at the doctor’s office. This vaccine is pushed on them to the point where it’s hardly an option, simply expected.

The safest action parents and young women can take is to be informed of both the benefits and the risks of the vaccine before they say “yes” to their physicians. And for little children, a vaccine is not what is necessary to protect against HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Open dialogue about sex and proper sex education can do more to protect your child than any vaccine.

But Merck is not selling safe sex or contraceptives, it is selling a product. And America’s sons and daughters are suffering the consequences.

Sage Hahn is a recent graduate of Northwestern Regional High School in Winsted. She is attending Bennington College in Vermont and has worked as an intern in Winsted’s Office of the Community Lawyer.

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