Studies Find No Link Between Gardasil Vaccine and MS

January is cervical cancer awareness month, which makes now a great time to talk about Gardasil, the somewhat controversial vaccine against HPV. Now you may be asking, what on earth does the HPV vaccine have to do with MS? In the past there have been some concerns that Gardasil increases the risk for developing multiple sclerosis as well as other autoimmune and demyelinating diseases. However, the results of several studies have shown that there is no link between the Gardasil vaccine and autoimmune or central nervous system (CNS) diseases.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection among men and women in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 14 million people are infected with the virus each year, and 79 million people are currently living with HPV. There are over 150 different strains of the HPV virus, some of which have a strong link to the development of cervical and other types of cancers. The development of the HPV vaccine Gardasil was a major breakthrough in cancer prevention and a huge step towards controlling the HPV epidemic. Gardasil protects against four strains of HPV, most notably strains 16 and 18 which are the culprits in the majority of cervical cancers. The vaccine is a series of three shots, and is recommended for females between the ages of 9 and 26 and males prior to the age of 21. It is important to administer the vaccine while people are young to ensure that they are protected before there is a chance of being exposed through sexual contact.

Several studies have been done to evaluate the safety of the Gardasil vaccine. Three studies specifically looked at the relationship between the vaccine, autoimmune, and CNS diseases.

Most recently a Scandinavian study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It investigated the relationship between the Gardasil vaccine and demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system using a large sample of 3,983,824 females, 789,082 of whom had received the Gardasil vaccine (I love studies with large sample sizes!). Those vaccinated received an average of 3 shots each, for a total of 1,927,581 administered vaccines. Researchers observed the 3.9 million participants and tracked anyone who was diagnosed with demyelinating CNS diseases. When the participants who had received the vaccine were compared to the participants who had not the results were…well, pretty boring. There was no statistical difference between the two groups, and therefore no evidence to show that the vaccine puts people at a greater risk for developing MS or other CNS diseases.

Another large Scandinavian study published in 2013 compared 296,826 women who had received the Gardasil vaccine with 700,759 women who had not. Again, they found no evidence linking the vaccine with an increased risk for autoimmune, neurological, or clotting disorders.

Similarly a study done in California and published in 2012 observed 189,629 women who received the Gardasil vaccine to evaluate whether they were at a higher risk for developing autoimmune conditions. They also found no correlation between the development of autoimmune diseases and the administration of the vaccine. The researchers concluded that there are no safety concerns when it comes to autoimmune conditions.

It seems prior case reports of autoimmune and CNS diseases that developed after the administration of the Gardasil vaccine were simply coincidental. The target population (young women) for the vaccine is inherently at higher risk for the development of autoimmune diseases. However, it was still important to establish that the vaccine was not to blame for these incidents. To date there is no evidence to suggest that the Gardasil vaccine puts individuals at a higher risk for MS, autoimmune, or other neurological diseases. As Adam Savage of Mythbusters would say- “consider this myth busted!”1-5

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