You knew it would happen just as soon as the FDA asked for an upgraded warning on Gardasil package inserts, drily explaining that an awful lot of girls seem to be fainting after their HPV vaccinations, and wouldn’t it be rather a good idea to monitor them and make them sit down. What with the possibility of suffering grievous injuries and all.
But right on cue, here come the usually male-generated media and blog comments about how teenage girls faint all over the place anyway. Couldn’t possibly because of this particular vaccine. Here’s a typical comment:
“Now ask yourself: If you line up a bunch of giddy 13-year-old girls for an injection that has something to do with sex, cancer and genital warts, would you expect more or fewer than 2 in 10,000 to faint during the process?” The writer goes on to jokingly (one assumes) wonder whether Gardasil isn’t actually preventing mass fainting.
I don’t think I’ve heard a man wonder out loud whether the mention of sex—faugh, Sir!—wouldn’t make a woman faint since I read a cartload of 19th century novels in college a few decades ago.
Can there really be people out there who are unaware that the average 13-year old (and indeed the average 11 or 12 year old) is not only quite au fait with the oh-so-shivery idea of sex but, sadly, might even be quite practiced in the art of doing various unspeakable things? And that these kids have obligingly held out their arms to get stuck many, many times since infancy, usually without even asking what the damn needle is for?
Trust me, that’s not why they’re fainting. Even Merck is prepared to admit that the genetically-engineered ‘virus-like particles’ (VLPs) in this novel type of vaccine might have something to do with both the fainting and with the more severe and longer-lasting pain associated with Gardasil.
My own 16-year old has an almost pathological fear of needles. My ultimate threat when she breaks curfew is an acupuncture appointment (I know, but it’ll give her lots to talk about when she’s in therapy later). As a six year-old she actually bit the doctor who tried to give her an MMR booster, and last year literally back backed away like a startled horse over a truly fearsome shot being given her in preparation for a trip to India.
But she has never, not once, come even remotely close to fainting.
I’ll grant you that adolescent girls are more likely to be on faint-worthy crash diets than toddlers, so let’s look at the numbers reported to VAERS, the notoriously fallible vaccine adverse event reporting system. We’ll compare them to the numbers for Menactra, since it’s given to roughly the same crash-dieting teenage crowd.
2,172 girls have suffered syncope after being given the Gardasil vaccine. Out of 463 teens who’ve suffered syncope after the Menactra vaccine, 389 were girls and 6 sex unknown.
So roughly five and a half times as many girls have fainted after receiving the Gardasil vaccine as after Menactra, and Menactra has been on offer for about a year and a half longer than Gardasil, which went on sale in 2006, and is routinely given to both boys and girls. (Compare that to the chicken pox vaccine, part of vaccination programs for both sexes since 1995, with a total of 312 cases of post-vaccination syncope.)
Now you can merge those figures statistically into the population until they’re not there anymore. Even 2,172 cases are a blip among the millions of doses administered.
Or you can join the airheads who say, “FGS, would you rather your kid had cervical cancer than risk fainting? Mine will get the shot even if they’re laid out on the floor!” Totally ignoring, of course, the fact that it’s not an either/or choice and that a) the risk of cervical cancer is tiny b) Gardasil is only 17-45 percent effective in preventing pre-cancerous cells c) fainting isn’t the only potential side-effect and could be the sign of something else going on.
But I’d have a lot more respect for Merck, the CDC, the FDA, and yes, those bloggers, if they said, hang on. It’s probably nothing, but if over five times as many kids are fainting, shouldn’t we check it out? Is this the canary in the coal mine? Could VLPs, never before used, be having an effect we really know nothing about?