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

Let’s Talk Contraception: Emergency Contraception

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 1 in 9 American women — 11 percent — has used the “morning-after pill.” This means that in the United States, 5.8 million sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used emergency contraception, an increase in use of 4.2 percent from 2002. Most women say their reasons for using emergency contraception are because they engaged in unprotected sex or feared that their method of contraception failed.


The best way to prevent pregnancy is reliable birth control. But sometimes we need a back-up method.


It has also been reported that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. For that reason, the availability of a range of contraceptive options is very important. Emergency contraception is the last choice for a woman to decrease her chance of becoming pregnant after unprotected sex. There are several products available for emergency contraception in the United States. There are many options, and they include:

  • regular birth control pills in specific doses
  • PlanB One-step
  • Next Choice
  • ella
  • copper IUD or intrauterine device (Paragard)

The Yuzpe regimen, which used ordinary birth control pills in specific combinations, was named after a Canadian physician who developed the method in the 1970s. Several brands of birth control pills are approved for this use to prevent pregnancy. This method uses the combined estrogen and progesterone hormones in your regular birth control pills in certain prescribed combinations.

Research showed the progesterone component of contraceptive pills was most effective at preventing pregnancy, so Plan B was developed as a two-pill regimen of levonorgestrel (a type of progesterone). When Plan B was first released, it consisted of one pill taken as soon as possible and another taken 12 hours later. Plan B One-Step, the newest version of Plan B, now has the same dosage of levonorgestrel in just one pill. It should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. This one-dose regimen has been shown to be more effective with fewer side effects. Continue reading

The History of the Birth Control Pill, Part 5: Clinical Trials

Gregory Pincus, Min-Chueh Chang, and John Rock, three scientists employed by Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick to develop the birth control pill.

Gregory Pincus, Min-Chueh Chang, and John Rock were hired by Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick to develop the birth control pill.

Welcome to the fifth installment of our series chronicling the history of the birth control pill. In the previous installment, Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick envisioned and bankrolled the development of the birth control pill. Now it had to be tested in large-scale trials.

John Rock, Gregory Pincus, and Min-Chueh Chang had collaborated in the Pill’s development; now it was time to conduct clinical trials. The first study observed 60 women, some of whom were infertility patients while others were nurses. These small trials involved daily temperature readings, vaginal smears, and urine samples, as well as monthly endometrial biopsies. Although the initial results seemed promising, the sample size was small and few of the subjects complied with the protocol.


The approval of the Pill in 1960 marked a turning point in our history.


More test subjects were needed. At this point, historians’ accounts differ. Elaine Tyler May claims that, unable to locate an acceptable pool of volunteers, the researchers tested the Pill on subjects who could not give their consent, such as psychiatric patients. According to Bernard Asbell, however, Rock was scrupulous when it came to informed consent, despite it not being a legal requirement — or even much of a concept at all at this time in history.

Willing participants notwithstanding, conducting such trials in the United States posed a challenge, due to laws against contraception. So the first large-scale clinical trials were conducted in Puerto Rico in 1956. Puerto Rico was densely populated and there was a high demand for alternatives to permanent sterilization, which was widespread on the island due to funding from a wealthy eugenicist named Clarence Gamble, who advocated sterilization for the world’s poor. The clinical trials in Puerto Rico were conducted by Drs. Edris Rice-Wray and Adaline Sattherthwaite; the brand of birth control pill tested was named Enovid. Volunteers were so easy to come by that some clinics had waiting lists. Continue reading