HPV vaccine risk: Shot may have put 13-year-old in coma

Nov 28, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. ET

British teenager Lucy Hinks is suffering from a severe illness, possibly as a result of an HPV vaccine. Her physicians are looking for another cause, but the vaccine itself, Cervarix, is also under scrutiny. Do you feel the risks of HPV are greater than the risk of the vaccine? Will you get the vaccine for your daughter or son? Read on to learn more about HPV and the potential risks of the vaccine, as well as what other moms think about the topic.

HPV vacine

The info on HPV

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to serious health problems such as cervical cancer. There are two vaccine brands that are currently on the market today -- in addition to Cervarix, which Lucy received, Gardasil is also available.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 20 million Americans infected with HPV and every year, 6 million more become infected. It is estimated that around 12,000 women get cervical cancer every year, most of which is caused by HPV.

Lucy's case

Lucy's problems began shortly after receiving the third dose of the vaccination that she received as part of a nationwide UK program where all 12- and 13-year-olds are given the injection. She was overcome by unexpected and extreme fatigue and started losing weight rapidly. Soon she was sleeping 23 hours a day -- and her doctors aren't sure why. They did an exhaustive battery of tests to rule out other illnesses such as a brain tumor and mononucleosis, and are now turning toward a potential vaccine reaction.

Lucy had suffered from a previous reaction to another vaccination as a small child (the MMR), but her parents were assured that the HPV vaccine, which has undergone testing worldwide, was perfectly safe for their daughter. Adverse reactions, however, are a risk that all vaccinations have, although it's nearly impossible to predict who will suffer from one and how severe it will be.

The vaccine debate

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control recommends all females be vaccinated against HPV starting at age 11, before sexual activity begins, in a series of three doses. It can be given to children as young as 9 years old. They are also considering a recommendation that parents get their preteen boys immunized against HPV as well.

The vaccine question is a raging ongoing debate, and it all doesn't deal exclusively with autism fears, as many would be led to believe by the media. There are many concerns parents have over the safety and efficacy of immunizations, as well as questions about the ingredients in the vaccines and what potential negative effects they have on a child's developing body.

And it can be a touchy subject to broach. Not vaccinating your child is sometimes seen as being an outcast hippie freak, with no merits to your concerns and fears. Jen from Canada said, "I've told people that I had a seizure right there in the doctor's office after receiving my two year vaccinations and they've actually told me I probably didn't have a seizure. Because clearly they would know more than the doctor whom I had the seizure in front of. I try to respect people's personal choices, but I've found that people tend to be downright abusive when you show any doubt towards vaccinations."

And the other side can be judged just as harshly. "I worry every time my children receive a vaccination," said Jolene, mother of three. "I wish that those who don't immunize wouldn't judge me as an uneducated parent who is allowing their child to be injected with toxins."

Would you... or wouldn't you?

Rebecca from Missouri had a similar story to Lucy's to share. "This started happening to my husband's boss' daughters," she stated. "They only got one shot, but they were sick for a long time from it. Yet another reason to not vaccinate against HPV. Some of my kids have had bad enough reactions to regular vaccines."

Amy, mother of one, had a different spin. "I've had the Gardasil shots myself and although I don't plan on giving them to my daughter as part of her standard (childhood/early teen) vax schedule, she can get them later on if she decides to," she shared.

Weighing the pros, the cons, the risks and rewards is something parents have to do every day. It can be difficult to know if you've made the right choice, and some decisions are harder to make than others. The one truth, however, is that you are doing what you think is best for your children, and no one can deny that.

Tell us

Are the risks associated with the HPV vaccine worth the potential protection it offers?

More on vaccines

The great vaccine debate
What's behind the "safe shot" approach to vaccines?
Does the HPV vaccine promote teen promiscuity?