A new study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on August 19 found that vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV) have caused 12,424 adverse reactions after more than 23 million doses have been administered in the United States since 2006. Most were classified as “non-serious” – fainting, headaches, rashes – but 772 were serious including anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reactions), blood clots, pancreatic failure and motor neuron disease. There have also been 32 reported deaths.

HPV vaccines, distributed in North America under the brand names Gardasil and Cervarix, are often billed as a cancer vaccine. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and some strains (HPV types 16 and 18) can cause cervical cancer.

Advocates of the vaccine’s distribution to pre-teen and teenaged girls say widespread, school-based vaccination programs will reduce cancer in the future. But Dr. Charlotte Haug, editor of the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association, wrote an editorial for the Journal of the American Medical Association, saying that the relationship between HPV  and the development of cervical cancer two to four decades later is unclear. She questioned widespread vaccine programs and said the new CDC information about the dangers raise further questions about the wisdom of such programs.

All 13 Canadian provinces and territories offer female elementary and high school students HPV vaccines free of charge through the school system.

During a presentation to the REAL Women conference in June, Dr. Robert Hauptman, chief of family medicine at Sturgeon General Hospital in St. Albert, Alberta, said that 70 per cent of HPV vaccines clear by themselves within one year and 90 per cent within two years. He questioned the necessity of providing the vaccine universally to pre-pubescent girls who may or may not be sexually active for a disease a low incidence rate of long-term problems. He suggests the hundreds of millions of dollars all levels of government are using to provide HPV vaccines to students could be better spent on healthy lifestyle public education campaigns.

Hauptman does not oppose the HPV vaccine, but says it should be targeted to older, sexually active women and who do not have regular pap smears to test for cervical cancer.