Gardasil: The iPhone of Vaccines

Today while scrolling through my Facebook feed a post caught my eye because it was about Gardasil, the revolutionary vaccine that has changed the face of myriad HPV-induced cancers. The post, which I would not click on, purported to detail a case of someone receiving the vaccine and developing leukemia. Looking through the comments, one stuck out. It explicitly called into question ever trusting pharmaceutical companies. It struck me as conspiratorial, arbitrary, and so misplaced. 

I, for the life of me, do not understand why there is any animus towards Gardasil -- it really is on the level of the polio vaccine in its importance to me (I also highly regard Cervarix, the other HPV vaccine). This vaccine, constructed through really cool processes involving viral like particles (VLP), has the capacity -- if adopted at high enough levels to eradicate HPV-caused cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and head/neck cancers. Not many other vaccines can do that. The evidence is already beginning to amount as the vaccine, first protective against 4 chief strains of HPV and now 9, has had the time to begin to impact rates of precancerous lesions as those who received the vaccine are now entering eras in their life (post sexual debut) when these changes first appear and are diagnosed. In New Mexico, for example, this is evident even with poor uptake.

There is very close to zero safety concern with this vaccine (see here and here) which should be as routine for boys and girls as all childhood immunizations are. However, I think the strong connection with HPV acquisition and sexual activity has caused some parents to balk for whatever reason (even physicians sometimes demur when including the HPV vaccine in the list of schedule vaccines at a given visit). It's odd to me that this objection comes up when hepatitis B vaccine is targeted against another a virus that can also be sexually transmitted and it is given soon after birth.

When you ask someone to articulate their opposition to Gardasil it is often something they are unable to give logical arguments and instead, at most, rattle off a litany of anecdotes they've heard or come across on the internet that are almost always wrong. The same type of people who claim the government has a "cure for cancer" locked up somewhere are the same type who shun an actual preventive cure for HPV-induced cancers. Consistency is not something that is the strong suit of the conspiracy-haunted mind.

Worse than anecdotal evidence, to me, is when they just arbitrarily assert that pharmaceutical companies are out to poison and kill everyone -- as if that would increase their profit or shareholder value. Such insults and attack on integrity not only insult the pharmaceutical company personnel who brought this product to market but also the scientists who meticulously devoted their lives to solving this problem (one of whom received a Nobel Prize).

In my estimation, Gardasil is technologically as important as the iPhone and it, and the individual minds that made it possible, should be lauded.