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Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D.

Gardasil and the Ovaries

By October 22, 2012

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I got a panicked text message the other day from a friend concerned about reports that Gardasil can cause premature ovarian failure. It sounded fishy to me, and sure enough, it was. The anti-vaccine proselytizers have jumped on a single case report that described a 16-year-old Australian girl who was vaccinated against HPV and several months later developed premature ovarian failure. The doctor in question couldn't find a reason for the very rare condition, and so people who don't understand the science involved are trying to make correlation seem like causation and blame the vaccine.

The fact that the doctor couldn't identify a cause for the girl's ovarian failure is not surprising since, as the report mentions, 90 percent of such cases have no known cause. That doesn't mean the vaccine had anything to do with it. In fact, more than likely, it did not. Just because two events happen in a sequence in time doesn't mean they're related. The fact that I had tea for breakfast this morning doesn't mean that tea caused me to bang my knee on the door jamb three hours later. Sometimes things just happen.

Figuring out whether an adverse event is linked to vaccination requires extensive scientific investigation, and such investigations are done when serious events are reported to VAERS. An isolated report that a girl went into premature ovarian failure several months after getting a vaccine wouldn't normally even get on the public's radar. However, because of the highly political nature of the HPV vaccine, the report is getting blown out of proportion. In my educated opinion, this isn't something anyone should be worrying about. Given the millions of girls who have been vaccinated, I'd want to see a) more reports of the same phenomenon and b) evidence that premature ovarian failure had become more common after the onset of widespread vaccination before I'd even think it was worth investigating.

Addendum: This blog points out that the lead author of the case report appears to be the contact person for a pro-life obstetrician's group. Therefore it is entirely possible that she spun the text of her report to encourage just the sort of anti-vaccine speculation that is flooding the conservative blogosphere.

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