Minnesota gets $600,000 grant to promote HPV vaccine, but effectiveness is debated
The vaccine protects against the strains of HPV that causes 70 percent of cervical cancer in women, as well as several other types of cancers in men and women, the Health Department said in a news release. Given in a series of three shots, it is recommended for girls beginning at age 11 and more recently has been recommended for boys at the same age.
The movement to boost HPV vaccination rates in Minnesota is well worth the effort, a Duluth oncologist said.
“HPV vaccination is a good thing, and it’s important because it has been shown to cover the two most common strains of HPV that are associated with cervical cancer,” said Dr. Colleen Evans, an Essentia Health gynecologic oncologist.
But to Dr. Gary G. Kohls, a retired Duluth physician who’s a critic of vaccinations and the pharmaceutical industry, it’s money misspent.
“The proof of efficacy is not there,” said Kohls, who spent the last 10 years of his career in holistic mental health. “This is just theoretical.”
In a 2012 survey, only 33.1 percent of Minnesota girls old enough to have been vaccinated had received all three doses, the Health Department said, and only 20.8 percent of boys had gotten even the first dose.
Two drugs have been approved as HPV vaccines: Gardisal, manufactured by Merck; and Cervarix, made by GSK.
The Health Department’s goal is to achieve 80 percent coverage for girls ages 13 to 15 by 2020, said Kristen Ehresmann, its director of infectious diseases, in the news release. She cited a CDC estimate that if 80 percent of teen girls in the U.S. were vaccinated today, 98,800 cases of cancer and 31,700 deaths would be prevented.
But Kohls isn’t buying that.
“Cancer of the cervix doesn’t show up for 20 or 30 years,” Kohls said. “The studies were only followed for five years or six years … before it got marketing approval from the (Food and Drug Administration).”
There’s no proof the immune response lasts longer than five years, he said. “It’s a huge experiment.”
But the medical director of St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center disagreed.
Studies have shown the Gardisal vaccine blocks transmission of HPV in patients who have not had sex by 97 to 100 percent, said Dr. Basem Goueli.
“It’s quite clear from the initial studies you’re getting an antibody response to the vaccine that undoubtedly protects people from contracting HPV,” Goueli said.
Kohls said the ingredients in Gardisal include “very toxic stuff,” such as aluminum. He charged 32 deaths have been documented in relation to the HPV vaccines, and that hundreds of additional adverse reactions have been reported.
But the people who died “had other reasons to have died, so the drug, the vaccine, wasn’t directly linked to those deaths,” Goueli countered.
He said the vaccine contains only trace elements of aluminum and that the risk is minimal.
The CDC backs that conclusion, reporting there has been no “unusual patterns of adverse events” to suggest an HPV vaccine safety concern.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health, recommends the HPV vaccination.
But Kohls is unimpressed.
“They’re corrupted by money,” Kohls said. “They’re being funded by drug companies. They don’t want to admit that they’re being fooled.”
Minnesota was one of seven states to be awarded funds for the public awareness effort. Four cities also received grants.
The Health Department said it will use the money for a media campaign, to send reminder postcards to families of 11- and 12-year-olds and to offer online and in-person opportunities for health providers to update their skills and knowledge regarding adolescent vaccination.
Goueli called that “a tremendous feat.”
“I see these people with cervical cancer and vulvar cancer and oropharyngeal cancer and vaginal cancer — I see them every day,” Goueli said. “And this is a preventable disease. This is now a preventable set of tumors. And you cannot put a price on that.”