Tetanus Vaccines Encourage Walking on Rusty Nails

Parents all over the country are submitting their children for one vaccine that protects against a disease they know nothing about. If you ask the average parent “What is tetanus?”, they are unlikely to provide a complete answer. They probably have only heard of tetanus from the vaccine and not from family stories about ancestors who contracted tetanus.

In fact, these parents are submitting their children for vaccination against a disease well before they will even encounter this disease. One of the most common ways tetanus is contracted is through puncture wounds, such as you might get from stepping on a nail. When was the last time a 2-month old (yes, that’s the age of the first tetanus vaccine) stepped on a nail? And even when they start walking, can’t you just teach them not to step on nails? Isn’t giving a vaccine against tetanus just giving a child permission to walk through construction sites and step on as many nails as they’d like?

What’s more, even though the vaccine is often mandated for school entry, tetanus is not spread to innocent victims. You can’t catch it by breathing, the way you might catch measles or chickenpox. It’s not that we want our children getting lockjaw, but can’t we just parent them really well away from getting it?

What’s that? Tetanus is a horrible and cruel way to die and spreads in multiple ways beyond rusty nails? Tetanus killed 580 people per year in the U.S. before the vaccine? The vaccine could in no way encourage promiscuous walking behavior? You can’t parent a child better as an alternative to vaccination?

I’ll make a deal with you. I will accept that the tetanus vaccine is important for the above reasons if you accept that the HPV vaccine is important for those same reasons. (You knew I was going this direction, didn’t you?)

  • HPV can spread in more ways than simple vaginal or anal intercourse. There is evidence that it can be spread through deep kissing, oral sex, and other ways.
  • HPV-related cervical cancer kills 4,000 women in the U.S. every year today. (Yikes! That’s more than tetanus!)
  • The HPV vaccine does not encourage promiscuity. When deciding whether or not to have sex, it is highly unlikely a young adult is considering their immunization record in the same way toddlers do not consider their tetanus vaccine when walking around.
  • Your lovely tween or teen may have promised not to engage in any sexual activity before marriage. However, their virginity is not a guarantee of protection because you are not parenting their future spouse (who could have multiple partners) and because not all sexual activity is consensual. Right now, 79 million Americans have HPV. Some of them were virgins when they got married.

Parents get squeamish thinking about their children’s future sexual activity in ways that they don’t get squeamish thinking about their children’s future walking activity. But we should no more tell parents to forego the tetanus vaccine and just make their children wear shoes outside than we should tell parents to teach their children to use condoms (or make purity promises) in lieu of the HPV vaccine. When it comes down to it, it’s not about walking or sex–it’s about preventing real and deadly diseases. And maybe the tetanus vaccine doesn’t encourage kids to walk on rusty nails after all.

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I’m pro-vaccine, but that HPV vaccine…

Somewhere along the line, it became acceptable for parents who happily vaccinate their children against pertussis and measles and diphtheria and rotavirus to fear the HPV vaccine. Parents who shun the notion that the MMR causes autism or the the Tdap causes SIDS gobble up willingly blog posts about beautiful teenage girls who developed neurological problems or ovarian issues after the vaccine. That the websites they read are connected to the most notorious in the anti-vaccine world doesn’t register with these otherwise pro-vaccine parents. They are certain that this vaccine is not safe and that, while they can trust the CDC on every other vaccine, the HPV vaccine information has been obscured and sullied.

Parents fear vaccines for lots of reasons, and I’ve always held that fear of the HPV vaccine is one gateway into the anti-vaccine world. (Another prominent gateway is our birth culture, but that’s a different post.) Those pretty teenage girls had so much to hope for. And now their dreams are dashed–even if all evidence points away from the HPV vaccine.

I could go on about how safe this vaccine truly is, but I’ve done that before.

Instead, I’m going to insist today that parents who readily fall prey to misinformation about this vaccine do not understand what is at stake. I was fortunate enough to host a conference call last week featuring Dr. Nathan Boonstra on the topic of HPV vaccine uptake. While you should listen to the whole thing, I was most struck by what he said about the burden of HPV disease:

When we talk about the burden of this disease, I think it is underestimated by a lot of people…We are looking at 80 million Americans currently infected with HPV, 14 million new infections a year in the United States. And it’s most common in people in their teens and their early twenties…We are talking about 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer alone every year. We are talking about 12,000 cases of cervical cancer a year. And when we start looking beyond that, we are looking at something on the order of 25-26,000 cases of cancer in the United States from these [HPV] viruses. And then we can go even bigger and talk about the hundreds of thousands of cases of genital warts and hundreds of thousands of cases of precancerous lesions that have to be removed and that have their own set of complications and their own burden by bleeding or infection or even cervical incompetence…When we talk about males and females, a lot of people think we are trying to protect females. But when you really break down the numbers out of all of these 25,000 cases of cancer that are happening in the United States, a good third of them are in males…Most of these are your oropharyngeal cancers, which can be reduced by widespread use of the vaccine.

What Dr. Boonstra pointed out is that the burden of HPV disease actually outpaces some of the other diseases we vaccinate against. If we consider only cervical cancer deaths (even though HPV causes a number of cancers) and compare those to the deaths of other diseases, the harm caused by HPV disease is obvious:

  • 4,000 HPV-related cervical cancer deaths in the U.S. today.
  • 1,904 polio deaths in the U.S. in 1950 (near the height of the epidemic).
  • 450 measles deaths every year in the U.S. before the vaccine.
  • ~500 tetanus deaths each year before widespread use of the vaccine in the U.S.
  • 100 chickenpox deaths every year in the U.S. before the vaccine.

And so on. You’ll notice that with the diseases we most fear for our children, we readily accept vaccinations. Except that HPV-related cancers kill more people every year than polio, measles, tetanus, and chickenpox combined did before we had vaccines for those diseases.

Parents who feel that they can let this vaccine hang or opt out of it because it doesn’t seem important are playing a dangerous game with their children’s health. HPV is a real threat, and preventing cancer when we can is an obligation. I would never say that one vaccine is more important than another, but the HPV vaccine is certainly crucial, even when it has the reputation of being optional.

While the burden of the disease may not hit their children until they are adults, the chance to protect their children happens when they are still children and parents have the obligations to make the choice to protect.

 

My Kid Got His Shots

Usually, I try to debunk vaccine myths or help frame some of the social and community discussions about vaccines when I write here. But today I was busy–getting my kid vaccinated. It is important for all parents to simply let others know that they do vaccinate, even if saying so leads to no further discussion. It’s a normal thing to do and, therefore, a normal thing to let others know about.

So here’s my child’s arm (the HPV-9 side), all Tweety-bandaided up. The other side (not pictured) has MCV4 and Tdap. Now I just have to get our records to the school district!

IMG_5440Get your kids vaccinated, and let others know you did!

Is Gardasil the Vaccine Destined to Destroy Your Child’s Life?

In all likelihood, your child can get an HPV vaccine and be fine. Listen, life doesn’t come with guarantees, so A THING could happen after your son or daughter gets the HPV shot, but the most likely thing would be an auto accident (not at all caused by the vaccine). I’m also not a science person, so my explanations will be mostly devoid of scientific explanation, but I will link you to actual science and scientists.

Many people want you to be afraid of the HPV vaccine. For otherwise happily vaccinating parents, the HPV vaccine is the gateway to the anti-vaccine movement the way they might fear hand-holding and french kissing is the gateway to early sexual exploration and orgies. (Speaking of french kissing–did you know that HPV can be transmitted that way?) And not coincidentally, parents’ fears of their children’s sexual awakening is sometimes tied to their fears of this vaccine, even though they do not worry about their newly walking toddlers purposely stepping on rusty nails just because they have been vaccinated against tetanus.

Here’s some science: apparently children who get the HPV vaccine are no more likely to become sexually active at a younger age than children who do not. Unfortunately, I have no science exploring toddlers and rusty nails to give you. There’s a research possibility for someone who wants it!

While I am not a scientist, I am fairly certain that the HPV vaccine cannot do these things to your children:

  • Reactivate a tick-borne bacterial infection that your child may or may not have had.
  • Explode your daughter’s ovaries.
  • Cause a diphenhydramine overdose.
  • Cause an auto accident.

I hope when I put it that way, that the ridiculousness of the anti-vaccine claims against HPV vaccines seem as implausible as they are. But you may not be convinced still, so here is some of the science done by other people with expertise whom you should trust:

  • A study of nearly a million girls funded by a grant from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research and the Danish Medical Research Council (i.e. not Big Pharma) found no serious adverse effects caused by the HPV vaccine. The study ruled out 23 autoimmune disorders, 5 neurological disorders, and blood clots as being related to the HPV vaccine.
  • The HPV vaccine is made from one protein from the virus. It does not contain hormones and is no more likely than any other vaccine to affect fertility (in other words, not at all likely.)  This outcome is probably not worth studying since the premise that it could cause infertility is based on something not possible. Dr. Kim Gecsi told ABC News: “There is nothing about this particular vaccine that would make this at all plausible. There is nothing hormonal in Gardasil or anything anti-hormonal in Gardasil — nothing that should encourage the body to stop producing ovarian hormones.” What does cause infertility? Cervical cancer, something we can prevent through vaccination.
  • VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) reports are often used as proof that the HPV vaccine causes all manner of bad outcomes, but such claims fail to note that VAERS explicitly states: “it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.” Dr. Jen Gunter, a gynecologist and female genital diseases expert has this wonderful takedown on the use of VAERS as it relates to the HPV vaccine.
  • Taking the data from seven different studies of the HPV vaccine, the Information is Beautiful website shows how the HPV vaccine is as safe as a placebo.
  • What are some side effects from the HPV vaccine? The CDC says that after the HPV vaccine, 25% of people might have redness or swelling in their arm, 33% of people might have a headache, and 10% of people might have a low-grade fever. Teens who get this vaccine might also faint–as they may with any other vaccine.

You may have found your way to this blog post because someone you know and love posted something about a girl whose Lyme disease was reactivated by the HPV vaccine. This story wants you to believe that a vaccine made of mostly sterile water and containing just enough of what it needs (and seriously–one protein from the virus) is administered into the muscle and colludes with a bacterium introduced at an earlier time from a tick in order to make vague, bad things happen. I am sorry for the pain this girl is in and I understand that the parents want answers, but the HPV vaccine is likely not the cause of Chronic Lyme Disease.

If you want to prevent real suffering, you will vaccinate your children.