With cervical cancer claiming the lives of nearly 4,000 women in America each year and genital warts being the number one sexually transmitted disease, Gardasil may seem to some as a Godsend. How safe is it, what do you need to know about the drug, and should you get it?
Read on for some helpful facts on the vaccine that may help you make your decision.
What is Gardasil?
Gardasil is a relatively new vaccine for females between the ages of 9 and 26, which helps to defend against the potentially deadly human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can cause a number of diseases, including cancer of the cervix, anus, and vagina – as well as genital warts and precancerous lesions of the female sex organs.
Gardasil is not exclusive to females. It also protects males between the ages of 9 and 26 from anal cancer, genital warts and precancerous anal lesions. The vaccine only protects against diseases caused by HPV Types 6, 11, 16 and 18.
The vaccine is administered in 3 doses via injection, usually in the arm muscle. The second dose follows 2 months after the first, and the third and final dose is given 6 months after the second.
The vaccine does not work for everyone, so other treatments are still encouraged. In addition to the HPV vaccine, routine cervical cancer screenings and the Pap smear for women are still recommended for maximum protection.
Because this vaccine is still fairly new, people are sometimes curious about what the drug contains and if it’s safe enough for them. The drug contains proteins of HPV Types 6, 11, 16 and 18, amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate, polysorbate 80, yeast protein, sodium chloride, L-histidine, sodium borate and water.
The general consensus is that Gardasil is safe, since it was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 after it was tested on 11,000 women and side effects, if any, are usually mild. There is a growing suspicion that Gardasil causes new strains of HPV, thus promoting cervical cancer rather than preventing it. The drug is still very new, though, so it remains to be seen if any complications arise down the road.
If you are allergic to yeast, amorphic aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate, or polysorbate 80 (or if you had an allergic reaction to a prior dose of Gardasil), you should not get the Gardasil shot. Some people may also be allergic to Gardasil itself, and may experience a rash, hives, wheezing or difficulty breathing. Let your doctor know right away if you experience any of these symptoms.
As with any drug, Gardasil, too, has side effects – including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, dizziness, fainting, and pain, itching or swelling at the point of injection. There is an apparent clash with the vaccines Menactra and Adacel, which makes pain, itching and swelling at the injection site more pronounced. So Gardasil should be administered at a different time than these drugs, if necessary.
You should notify your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms: swollen glands or lymph nodes, joint pain, leg pain, muscle weakness, chest pain, seizures, chills, bleeding or skin infection.
The vaccine is neither safe nor intended for pregnant women or women planning to get pregnant. Those with compromised immune systems, high fever or who take other medications must get physician clearance before it’s okay to get the vaccine to prevent or minimize complications.