Government officials advise that all girls, starting at age 11 or 12, be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Yet, two new studies raise questions about the safety of the vaccine.
Doctors had recommended that all young women receive the Gardasil shot to prevent a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.
"It's for her own health," one mother said. "I did it."
More than 7 million American women have had the Gardasil shots. Most of the side effects are mild like dizziness, headache and fainting.
However, two new studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association identify 12,000 medical problems after vaccination, including 700 reports of serious complications from taking Gardasil such as blood clots, autoimmune disorders and 32 deaths.
"These are initial reports," said Dr. Sara Feldman of Brigham & Women's Hospital. "We can't assume a cause and effect relationship as many of these women had other, underlying medical conditions that may have contributed or caused their deaths or adverse outcomes."
Gardasil has been controversial since it was introduced three years ago. Parents voiced concerns about vaccinating their children against a virus that is sexually transmitted.
Merck, Gardisil's maker, has been criticized for rushing the vaccine to market and encouraging large-scale vaccination campaigns.
Now there are new worries about its safety.
In fact, gynecologist Dr. Jacques Moritz said it is so risky, that until he knows more he will not have his own 11-year-old daughter vaccinated.
"Most doctors I know have stopped giving the vaccine because of questions of safety," he said. "I just don't know this vaccine."
Doctors say it is not only risky but it may not even do what it's designed to do.
"I feel that we don't have enough information or data yet to be able to persuasively say that this will prevent cervical cancer," Dr. Feldman said.
Parents now have one more reason to re-think the wisdom of giving the Gardasil shot to their young daughters.
*Originally published August 19, 2009