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Thursday, July 9, 2009

To Gardisil or not to Gardisil - That is the Question

As the mother of three daughters, I have been made aware of the Gardisil vaccine by the media as well as by our family physician. Gardasil is a series of three vaccines taken over the course of 6 months. The purpose of Gardisil is to help prevent cervical cancer, genital warts, and other conditions caused by certain types of human papillomavirus. It does not protect against all types of HPV; however, it does protect against four of the most common types. Gardasil has been approved for use in girls and women age 9 to 26.

A day ago, my three daughters went in for their routine annual check-up. My husband and I firmly believe in preventive medicine and always get routine physicals ourselves. My husband's side of the family has had heart, prostate and other health issues that we need to stay on top of. So we instill the need with our daughters to maintain good health and eating habits. We routinely get flu shots and everyone enjoys good health. But, after this most recent doctor visit, I am wondering if we need to be more thorough about what shots we get and whether the side affects outweigh the benefit of the vaccine.

On the Gardisil website, these are some of the disclaimers of the vaccine: "Common side effects include nausea, dizziness, and reactions at the injection site. Cervical cancer is a disease that occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the cervix, a part of a woman's reproductive system. While no one knows the exact cause of this cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the major risk factor for developing the disease. Symptoms may not appear in the early stages of this type of cancer; when symptoms are present, they can include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain, among other things. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy."

That's enough to scare you into getting this vaccine, but is that enough cause? Are all women at risk? The reason I had my eldest daughter get her first of three Gardisil shots is she will be heading off to college soon and the close quarters of a dorm seems to attract more illnesses including meningitis. She's not sexually active, and my husband has strictly told her she can't be until she's at least 40! But seriously, my paternal grandmother died of either ovarian or cervical cancer, and a close friend had cervical cancer five years ago and encouraged me to have my daughters vaccinated with Gardisil, as she did with her own two daughters. She feels strongly that if she had been vaccinated herself, she would not have had to go through the torture of chemotherapy and the emotional experience of being diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Yesterday my daughter was subjected to three vaccines during her exam including meningococcal and tetanus, which may have contributed to her surprising reaction to the Gardisil vaccine. My point to all this is, as a parent we tend to go with the flow and without question or thorough research and have our children vaccinated based on guidelines outlined by preventive medicine practices. For sure, mumps, measles, rubella, polio and chicken pox are vaccines that have helped wipe out these childhood diseases in most industrialized nations. But as we venture into vaccines that address a more remote disease, what are the risks of NOT injecting yourself to these vaccines (pun intended)?

My daughter's side affects to Gardisil was surprising to me, as none of my children have ever experienced side affects to any vaccine or medication before. Her reaction was what I would classify as mildly severe. Within seconds of the shot, she felt a tingling sensation throughout her arm, which then radiated to her extremities. Her whole body became weakened and she quickly became faint and nauseous. She had to lie down for about 10 minutes to regain her composure. When we walked to the waiting room to rejoin my other two daughters who had finished their physical exams, they quickly saw their sister and exclaimed, "You're white as a vampire!" Not having noticed as I was tending to her nausea and dizziness, I quickly saw that indeed she was so pale even her lips were white. There was no color to her face at all, it was deadpan white. We sat back down in the waiting room for her to recover from this vaccine. Now granted, the combined affect of three vaccines could have lead to such a noticeable reaction. But as she continued to pale, and eventually throw-up her breakfast, I really felt I did not do enough research about Gardisil and made it my mission to do more reading and share this experience with other moms of daughters out there. As a side note, my eleven-year old also had three vaccines, but did not include Gardisil in that mix. She had no reaction whatsoever to her vaccines.

I plan to ask our physician whether my daughter can skip the other two Gardisil vaccines in the series of three shots. What are the ramifications of not taking those other two shots? As I learn more, I will report back here to raise awareness of this vaccine with others. Meanwhile, do your own research if you have a daughter and are considering the Gardisil vaccine.

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