Gardasil and Mortality

womenVaccination is one of public health’s greatest achievements, but today’s sociopolitical climate promotes unfounded fears. In turn, this fear-mongering has led to outbreaks of otherwise rare infectious diseases, such as measles and whooping cough. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines protect against two HPV strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, which itself is the second-most common type of cancer in women worldwide. Immunization has the potential to eliminate these viral strains, which would save lives and reduce health care costs — but, unfortunately, vaccine horror stories are a dime a dozen on the Internet, and HPV vaccines like Gardasil are popular targets for vaccine opponents.


Of 57 million Gardasil doses given in the United States, 40 confirmed deaths have occurred in recipients. However, these deaths were not caused by vaccination.


There are many claims flying around that Gardasil causes serious side effects, including death. However, claims that Gardasil can lead to death aren’t supported by good evidence. Generally speaking, people who make these accusations obtain their information from a publicly accessible database called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which collects claims of adverse events from anyone — including health care providers, patients, or family members.

What is an adverse event?

Most people don’t realize that the phrase “adverse event” cannot be used interchangeably with the term “side effect.” An adverse event is something that occurs after a vaccination — such as a headache, seizure, depression, or death. It could happen one second after being injected with a vaccine or more than a year afterward. It could be a coincidence, or it might be caused by vaccination. For example, if two weeks after receiving a flu shot I get a headache, I could legitimately claim it is an “adverse event,” even if my headache had nothing to do with the shot. An adverse event is only called a side effect if it is found to have been caused by vaccination.

What is VAERS?

Despite its occasional misrepresentation in print media, social media, and the blogosphere, VAERS is not a source of information about verified side effects — it is a database of adverse events that have been self-reported by the public. Anyone can submit a report to VAERS — heck, I could claim that the flu shot gave me telekinetic powers in addition to that headache, and it would be recorded in the database. That doesn’t mean that you should worry about coming down with a nasty case of telekinesis after getting a flu shot at the corner drug store. Continue reading

Get Smart About Antibiotics!

This week we celebrate Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. Antibiotics, or antimicrobials as they are also called, cure bacterial infections by killing bacteria or reducing their ability to reproduce so your own body’s immune system can overcome an infection. Penicillin was the first antibiotic, and was discovered in 1924 by Alexander Fleming. Since its widespread use, beginning in the 1940s, countless lives have been saved from devastating bacterial infections. Talk about a wonder drug!


Improper use of antibiotics can have dangerous consequences.


Since then, different types of antibiotics have been developed to combat many different types of infectious bacteria. Classes of antibiotics include penicillins, cephalosporins, macrolides, fluoroquinolones, aminoglycosides, and others. In each of these classes there are lots of different individual medications. (For example, cephalosporins include the drugs cephalexin, ceftriaxone, cefaclor, and others.) Some antibiotics are broad spectrum, which means they work on many different bacteria. Some are more narrow spectrum, used for specific bacteria.

Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections … not viral infections. They are ineffective at killing viruses. Viral infections include colds, flu, runny noses, most coughs and bronchitis, and sore throats unless they are caused by strep. Sexually transmitted viruses include human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes simplex virus, and HIV. Continue reading