A look at the controversies surrounding the Gardasil vaccine, from sensationalist headlines to religious conversations to the fight against cancer

Gardasil, the vaccine given to prevent HPV, is a constant source of controversy. Headlines all
over the internet catch readers’ eyes with sensational statements: “Young women’s ovaries
destroyed…”, “vaccine that keeps killing young women”, “infertility side effects”, and “global
Gardasil genocide.” Should the vaccine be cause for concern, or are these reports unfounded,
motivated by irrational fears?

This is a vaccine that prevents cancer – it’s our only vaccine we know that does that!

Beth Walsh, registered nurse in Health Services at Wheaton College confidently promotes the vaccine. “I did wait for a while to make sure it was safe enough before I gave it to patients”, she shares, “and the data out there shows that it is.” With Gardasil, most health practitioners and parents now are in agreement: the vaccine has huge benefits. “This is a vaccine that prevents cancer – it’s our only vaccine we know that does that!”

But there are still many who do not get the HPV vaccine. Those people fall into three categories:
– Those who reject specifically Gardasil because of its sexual connotations, on the basis of
morality
– Those who distrust and avoid all vaccines
– Many who simply find the three-part series inconvenient or too expensive

Since HPV is a sexually-transmitted virus which causes cervical cancer and genital warts, it
should not be a concern for people who practice celibacy and wait to have sex until marriage.
That is why within religious communities, there is still some opposition to the vaccine. Joan
Robinson and Steven W. Mosher, writing for the Population Research Institute voice their
concerns, not for the vaccine itself, but for the responsibility it avoids. “The proponents of sexual
liberation are determined not to let mere disease—or even death—stand in the way of their
pleasures… They might have to learn to control their appetites. And they might have to teach
abstinence.”

Dr. Rhoda Blum, MD, a pediatrician for Kaiser acknowledges this tension. “It is true. When we
first started giving the vaccine, many were against it because they believed it was giving our
girls license to be sexually active.” However, Dr. Blum suggests that whatever people decide
about their own sexual activity, one vaccine is not going to encourage them or change anything.

“As a pediatrician, I want to protect people. I don’t want to punish them for things they are going
to do anyway.” Dr. Blum’s stance is clear. “I am very pro-Gardasil.”

But what about those who distrust the vaccine in general; those who oppose it because of
safety concerns? Both Dr. Blum and Beth Walsh have similar thoughts. The research has been
done. Large, medically rigorous institutions like CDC, NIH, Kaiser, and many universities have
all tested the vaccine and view it positively.

CDC studies, in particular, have carefully considered and traced all possible side effects and
negative impacts and have openly reported what they’ve found. Of over 40 million HPV
vaccines distributed by now, only 34 deaths have been confirmed. And among those deaths, no
common pattern could be traced. The absence of pattern suggests the deaths were probably
not caused by the vaccine.

However, other sites view similar statistics and see them as cause for concern. “Gardasil has
already been linked to more than 49 deaths and thousands of negative reactions,” says Anthony
Gucciardi on infowars.com. “However even in the face of compelling evidence it is actually
being more widely distributed than ever. This is due to the corrupt nature of Gardasil
manufacturer Merck.” There is worry among some people that the big pharmaceutical
companies are skewing the data to support their initiatives so they can continue making money.

Whether people choose to believe research or not, the CDC studies, and many private
universities do show that 80% of sexually active women will contract the HPV virus by age fifty if
they do not receive the vaccine. 70% of cervical cancers are caused by two strains of HPV,
which are both protected against by the vaccine. And 90% of genital warts can also be avoided
by protecting against HPV. If these studies are trustworthy, the benefits are significant!

Most medical practitioners and scientists today are in support of Gardasil, but in the end, every
individual must make the choice of who they will trust.

It means we can have an open dialogue. It allows me to talk about ‘why wait’

The more important question, then, is what do we do with Gardasil if we want to use it well?  Walsh shares her opinions not only as a medical professional, but also as a Christian mom. “What I have decided as a mom, is that I am going to let my kids make their own decision. I am going to tell them all the risks and benefits. But it means we can have an open dialogue. It allows me to talk about ‘why wait’. It’s another door for open conversation.”

For Walsh, Gardasil is more than just a vaccine. It is also an opportunity. In a society where kids
are having sex at younger and younger ages and in more casual contexts, the Gardasil
conversation gives her kids space to share and be open with her. “As Christian parents, we
have to talk about these things with our kids! We have to be firm with truth, but we also have to
listen to what our kids are hearing and seeing.”

“I guess I don’t see Gardasil as a moral issue,” Walsh continues, “I think of it as a protection of
our body. I don’t feel like vaccinating my kids is giving them license to have sex before marriage,
or with multiple partners.” Instead, it allows her to be honest with her kids, letting them know all
the risks as well as her own desires for their lives. In the end, she hopes her kids will choose to
wait to have sex until marriage, but she also hopes they choose to vaccinate. Gardasil is about
safety, protecting against any harm. And rather than undermining religious beliefs, Gardasil
gives people opportunities to share their convictions and why those convictions are good.

Walsh shares relevant concerns as a mom, but how does the younger generation, itself, view
this vaccine? The Millennial Generation is the first to have Gardasil available to them. Here, two
college-age women share their own hopes and concerns.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/137219208″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

For the sake of this generation, it is imperative that the Gardasil vaccine be given careful
attention. We must continue to make sure that is safe for patients. And we can continue to
expand understanding and receptiveness to it, as it aids us in our fight against cancer and
protects this generation from needless harm.

Photo Credit: onpoint.wbur.org