Despite some controversy, Gardasil is still worth consideration
// Kaitlyn Shore

Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted infection that, until recently, was barely spoken of compared to diseases such as HIV and AIDS. However, HPV has been shown to be a cause of several kinds of cancer, such as anal, throat and, most commonly, cervical. A vaccine, called Gardasil, has become readily available in the last five years to combat the spread of infection.

HPV causes around 75 per cent of the 150 cases of cervical cancer in BC per year. Recently, various media outlets, including the BC Cancer Agency and Immunize BC, have all been promoting Gardasil and pushing HPV prevention, specifically for females. Although males are carriers of the disease, the immunization is barely mentioned for male usage. Is the HPV vaccine the ultimate prevention method against cervical cancer? And why aren't these campaigns targeting men as well?

Chances are, if you are a university-aged female, you haven't gotten the HPV vaccine. This vaccine has become readily available in British Columbia, most notably to grade six girls. However, if you are a university student, this vaccine didn't exist when you were in elementary school. “It's just that it [Gardasil] wasn't available to me when I was younger, and it's not on my list of priorities,” says Capilano University communications student Melissa Nemeth. “

According to ImmunizeBC, 6,000 women in BC develop pre-cancerous changes to their cervix each year – that means biopsies, surgeries, fear, and anxiety. Thousands of those cases could be prevented, to say nothing of the 150 women in BC who develop full-blown cervical cancer each year, and the 50 who die from it,” says Michelle Reid, LACE Campaign Outreach Coordinator. “The HPV vaccine is an incredible development in women's health.”
The LACE Campaign is a women's health organization which organizes many events, notably Pap Test Week, in which clinics stay open longer and increase the accessibility of Pap testing for women across the Lower Mainland. The LACE campaign emphasizes Pap testing as a right for females everywhere.

“The benefit of the HPV vaccine is that it can prevent infection with certain types of HPV strains from ever occurring,” adds Lisa Despins, of the BC Cancer Agency. “However, it’s important to remember that even if you’ve had the vaccine, you still need regular Pap [tests] to protect yourself from high-risk strains of HPV not covered by the vaccine.”

Not everyone believes in the safety of Gardasil. One of many anti-immunization websites, TruthAboutGardasil.org, is devoted to bringing down the vaccine. According to the website, the vaccine is causing extreme negative health problems in young girls, such as paralysis and strokes, and goes on to claim Gardasil has caused over 100 deaths. The website contains articles and links which negate the reported safety of the vaccine's usage. According to one of these articles, a young woman named Jessie Ericzon died as “a guinea pig for Gardasil,” as described by the mother, who blames the vaccination for her daughter’s sudden death. So far, the only widely reported side effects of Gardasil are feelings of illness just after getting the vaccinations and a chance of allergy, especially if you are allergic to yeast. Because the vaccine hasn't been widely used for more than a few years, the long-term negative effects of the HPV vaccine are yet to be seen.

According to an international study conducted by the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, half of all adult men are carriers of the HPV virus. The American Centre for Disease Control (CDC) only concluded to suggest immunization for young men on Oct. 26. The CDC is an advocate for the Gardasil vaccine and has always strongly recommended that girls around age 11 or 12 should receive the vaccine. Immunization of young men will help protect them later in life from developing throat and anal cancer as a result of HPV. Although it was a major oversight by the CDC to not promote Gardasil's use for males when they originally began to advertise it, their recent action shows their faith in the vaccine.

At this point in time, Gardasil is probably the most effective method of preventing cervical cancer. Studies trying to prove its danger have been inconclusive, and it is worth everyone going to their doctor to get the immunization. Does this mean you should stop getting your yearly Pap test? Definitely not, Despins concludes: “Paps are an extremely effective test for preventing cervical cancer as they identify abnormal cells that can be treated before they become cancerous or they find cancer in its early stages where the cure rate is higher than 80 per cent.” So, don’t forget to get your yearly Pap test (or, if you're a guy, yearly check-ups), and you might want to consider getting the Gardasil vaccine, no matter your gender. It may be an inconvenience, but it could possibly save your life.

// Kaitlyn Shore, Writer
// Illustration by Jason Jeon

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