Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saving Grace and Saving Girls... Maybe...
The HPV Vaccine - Pros & Cons

My college girlfriend Nichelle was the first person I ever knew who had a problem with her pap test. This was in the late 70's before AIDS announced itself. Doctors weren't 100% sure what caused cervical cancer, and thus, no vaccine was available.

Sit back, relax, and I'll tell you more about her, others, a murder, and mix it with information that you might find highly useful, even if you're a man or a parent.


The history of scientists trying to figure out the cause of cervical cancer is fascinating. To summarize part of the 8-29-2006 New York Times article, How a Vaccine Search Ended in Triumph:

In the 1930’s, Dr. Richard Shope of the Rockefeller University, was on a hunting trip and heard a friend describe seeing rabbits with “horns,”. He asked his friend to send some of the horns. He then ground them up, filtered them through porcelain that let only tiny virus-size particles through, and injected the filtrate into other rabbits, which grew horns in turn.

The cute, mythical, postcard version of the Jackalope

This is why some jack rabbits have antelope-looking horns. These 'jackalopes' are infected with their own version of the papilloma virus. In humans it's called HPV.

"It took decades for scientists to even figure out the cause: the papillomavirus, named for the papilla, or bud, that the tumor creates. Species as different as birds and whales have their own papillomas. There are more than 100 human strains. Many are harmless. Some cause warts on hands, noses or genitals, and some cause cancer. As a result, blame has been laid on origins like toads, witchcraft and God’s anger at promiscuous women."


I don't remember exactly how Nichelle told me, only that she looked worried when she did.

"What does it mean?", I asked.

"The doctor found weird cells on my cervix," she answered. "He said I need a surgical procedure to scrape them off."

"Ewwwl. Scrape? That sounds painful. What happens if you leave them alone?"

"They might turn to cancer. Then I would have to have a hysterectomy."

Cancer?, I thought. At her age? I was stupefied.

"Does it run in your family?"


"Well, how did you get it?"

She shrugged evasively. "The doctor isn't sure," she said.

My parents were fruitcakes when it came to sexual diseases. They came of age in an era when there was no treatment for gonorrhea or syphilis until after WWII. My mother caught staphylococcus while in the hospital in the early 60s. This was a not uncommon bacterial skin infection.

It must have been close to her private area, because my father initially assumed this was a sexually transmitted disease, thinking it was related to what he called gonococcus, the bacteria responsible for gonorrhea

Knowing them so well, I can just imagine their argument, or maybe I actually heard it and it's buried in the recess of my mind:

Him: You've been cheating and now you have disease! Coccus! I know what that is! I better not have it!

Her: If I ever catch a disease, it would be from you, you bald-headed bastard!

Thankfully, a doctor enlightened him. Didn't matter. Their marriage had been doomed long before this.

Now, as I looked at my friend, I made a similar assumption my father did and wondered if her problem came from sexual activity, although she previously said she was a virgin.

I asked, "Did you have sex?"

She looked embarrassed. Nichelle was an only child of successful, upper middle black parents. Her neighborhood and schools were predominantly white, and she didn't speak ebonics or use slang.

A clear, crisp yes rolled off her tongue.

She looked away, then I did too.

I thought of her boyfriend, angrily thinking that if she caught it, he gave it to her. I didn't like him the first time I laid eyes on him but don't remember why. He was neither ugly - a huge turnoff when you're young - nor stupid.

"Will you still be able to have kids after this?"

"I don't know," she replied sadly.

Her procedure went well. She would need follow up paps each year, and didn't want to talk about anymore.

Two years later, Nichelle graduated and met a new guy. I was shocked when she announced she was getting married; none of my other friends had. A year after that she mailed me a photo of her new baby girl. I wondered then if she rushed into starting a family, worried that her problem might come back.

Around 2002, America was online, and I did an Internet search for her. I should have found her, because like me, she had been a journalism undergraduate student, but unlike me, she lucked up and got a job with a small newspaper as a reporter in the 80s.

Nada, zip, zilch. Nothing.

I wondered about the worse, but then thought, well, maybe she chose to go by her married name, or like me, couldn't get a good career break in the racist 80s and switched careers. I did a search this morning still no luck. To this day, I hope she wasn't a casualty to cervical cancer.

This dreaded disease is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

"The American Cancer Society assumes a patient was infected with HPV to develop cervical cancer, and it is hence viewed as a sexually transmitted disease. However, most women infected will not develop cervical cancer."

One of the ways a real infected 'jackalope' jack rabbit looks

The catch is getting females vaccinated before they get exposed to it, preferably before they become sexually active. Currently, girls between 11 and 17 are the target population.

I thought of my own young daughter and decided to take a wait 'n see approach since it was so new. I recall wishing it was available for boys, since at the time, my son was 16 or 17 and fairly green, having been with only one girl who had also been a virgin.

In March 2007, Merck, the makers of the vaccine Gardasil, along with a bunch of experts recommended that teenage girls get vaccinated. The speed of acceptance has been breath-taking. News this weekend:

"This protects against some of the HPV viruses that cause cervical cancer. By the last few months of last year, 25% of teenage girls had received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is given in a three-dose series."

That doesn't include all populations of girls. Only 1% of Latina girls have a shot, and I wonder about the black female population in various areas.

A study of 290 men from southern Arizona between 18-44 years old show these HPV infection rates.

"Over the entire study period, roughly half of men were infected with HPV and nearly a third of the HPV types found are known to cause cancer. About 75 percent of the infections cleared within a year of detection... The HPV vaccine is currently being tested on men."

Half of men? Jeez!. What the hell are they doing in southern Arizona? Sounds like a modern day Sodom or Gomorrah, or like they have too much free time on their hands. I shudder to think what stats from NYC and other sprawling urban areas would look like.

For now, this vaccine sounds heaven sent for women. It offers protection for 70% of the strains that cause HPV as well as genital warts.

Keep in mind that all vaccines have side effects, and Gardasil is said to be one of the most painful childhood shots. Read up on it and talk with your doctor about it first.


Years ago, I worked with a lovely, expressive, 14 year girl who was sent to me for therapy. She came from deep poverty. Both parents had serious drug problems; they weren't bad people, but they were bad parents. Chronic neglect was a major issue because of their addictions.

Kianna and her and her four siblings had been in and out of foster care, and her older brother, 17, was living in a group home for juveniles. I knew him too, because I had done three therapy sessions with him a year earlier, before this angry kid was moved into a new group home that had their own therapist.

As though her life wasn't bad enough, one evening she was raped by a slimeball in her neighborhood who dragged her into the woods.
Kianna cried and cried telling me about it, but wouldn't tell the police, her social worker, or me, the name of the guy who did it, fearing retribution. She was too scared to snitch.

Then she discovered she had been infected with genital warts. She needed surgery to remove them and was told she might need another surgery if they returned.

Another, more severely infected jackalope

That's when she told her brother. He was the kind of brotha who don't play that shit.
He administered street justice and murdered her assailant.

Kianna told me about this months after it happened. Truth be told, I wasn't even mad.

He got away with it too. No names given, no witnesses, too many murders in whatever area the homicide took place to link him to one particular murder, and no date of the killing. Thus, no case.

Five years later I ran into her. She looked terrible. Both earlobes were split from being assaulted in a homeless shelter. Her life hadn't gone well, but she had one thing she was proud of:

"I have a son," she said. She showed me his picture.

"He's beautiful!", I gushed.

"He's not with me, though," she said sadly. "He's in foster care until get my life together."

"I'm so sorry," I said.

I meant it. Some people are born in terrible circumstances and life goes down from there. She was a classic example of this.

"How's your brother?" I asked.

"He's locked up. Gonna be there a long time."

"For what?"


"He ever kill again?"

"No, that was the only time. I named my son after him."

I nodded with understanding, for I generally believe that there before the grace of God go I. Under her circumstances, I might have done the same thing, given that he was the only person she felt who protected her.

As I sit here now, I wonder how the awful lives of those two lost siblings would have turned out if she had the simple vaccine that prevents most HPV strains and genital warts. It wasn't available then.


Xenophobia, racism, and greed never ends:

"An expensive cervical cancer vaccine is now needed by young female immigrants before they can become legal U.S. residents, a requirement that immigration advocates say is unfair. Federal officials recently added the Gardasil vaccine to a list of vaccinations that immigrants must have before they can obtain green cards. The cervical cancer vaccine is required of females ages 9 to 26."

This immediately struck me as strong-arm lobbying by the pharmaceutical company combined with racism and classism to keep out less well-to-do immigrants. The reason is the prolonged age requirement. To age 26? That ain't what the CDC recommended.

"This is a huge economic, social and cultural barrier to immigrants," said Tuyet Duong, and attorney at the Asian American Justice Center in Washington.

Gardasil, given in three shots over a six-month period, costs about $400. That puts an added burden on green card applicants already paying more than $1,000 in fees and hundreds of dollars for mandatory medical exams, advocates say.

That's expensive as hell for a lot of Americans, especially in these dire economic times when the uninsured working class falls through the cracks. They earn too much for free medical assistance, and too little to afford health care. Often their part time or commission jobs offer no insurance. It's no accident that their sales were down 34% in July and August of this year.

Except for my son, who gets free health insurance until he's 21 because this came with his adoption, my daughter and I are one of the families who have fallen through the no insurance cracks.

The funny thing is, we've been healthier than when I was earning a ton of money working full-time and had great coverage. It's like we made a conscious decision to not get sick, dammit.

Now, however, I wonder what Casie will be like after she turns 13 the end of this year. She began high school in September. She's younger than all her friends and not very interested in boys yet, but she notices they notice her. It's cute. She laughs that a nerdy boy asked her if they could go together. In her social circle, this means they would talk in school and on the phone.

"Whatchu say?", I asked her.

"No," she replied snottily. "I don't wanna go with no dumb boy."

"See any yet that you like?"

She rolled her eyes. "Nuh-uh."

I have to chuckle at this, and boy am I glad.

Her lil' friends, already 13, come across as virgins too. They're sweet and more innocent than they think.

I'd love to freeze this moment in time, but the calendar pages have been turning for years. The clock ticks and the seasons pass. As it is supposed to be, she has been moving along nature's invisible path where she will gradually claim her sexuality and womanhood.

I'm struggling over whether to bite the bullet and cough up $400 bucks for her to get this vaccination now, or wait until she's 14 or 15... but that may be too late. My baby doll can already pass for 16.

As a mother and one with a natural tendency of thinking of the worst case scenario under any circumstances, other kinds of thoughts go through my mind. What if I wait too long? What if she gets a boyfriend before late next year or actually has one now, and I don't know about him?

I seriously, seriously doubt it, but kids can be unexpectedly sneaky.

The world is not especially safe either for the feminine sex. I read that one out four or five American women get raped at some point in their lives. I myself was nearly date raped in early 20s - by a gawd damned drunk attorney, who of all people, should have known better - on our first and last date. What if my daughter got raped and she got infected with HPV - or worse - like my former client?

I think of my own son's thuggish tendencies and easy anger. He's extremely protective of her and has that you bettah not look at my sister mindset. He'd snap if anyone seriously harmed her, and I can easily picture him doing what Kianna's brother did.

Yep, time to bite that bullet and not delay. That's gonna be one of Casie's Christmas presents. It might be one of the best gifts she ever receives.


Important Addendum, Sunday 10/12/2008 @ 10 AM EST

I would like to thank Cheri T. who left the first comment below, and a couple others who emailed me after posting this about concerns with Gardasil vaccine.

In this post there is mention of the need to be aware of side effects, to read up on them and to speak with your doctor before determining if this vaccine is right for the pre-teen or teen girl in your family.

After reading suggested links and watching the YouTube videos, I concluded a casual mention of side effects wasn't enough. I had so much doubt that I considered yanking this post. Instead, I decided to keep it here and add the word 'Maybe' to the title.

Also, here are two videos that might scare the shit out of you:

Is HPV Safe? CBS News, July 2008

Gardasil Warning - CNN Report 8-11-2008

It is clear that Merck has been very aggressive in promoting this vaccine and that Big Pharmaceuticals have their bottom-line as being profit-oriented. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but after further consideration, it bothers me that this vaccine hasn't been on the market that long - or long enough to know:

1) how many years will the vaccine provide immunity before it wears off, and

2) the side effects on girls who had all three shots. This is important, because reportedly, 25% of US girls have had at least one vaccination. What's the percentage of girls who had all three? And why didn't Merck ask or include this data in their report? Is it lower because they haven't gotten around to it yet or lack the money for it, or because these girls had side effects but never reported them?

It's weird that this past weekend, the news has been so rosy about the vaccination. Were these media plants or moles by Merck to push these news stories to push up their lagging sales?

The other piece that bothers me is that in Canada, all 6th grade girls will soon be required to have this. As I said in the post, the Gardasil vaccine sounds heaven sent, but isn't it a bit new for this to be a proven fact? Or more disturbingly, for Big Brother to take over a parent's decision?

The HPV Vaccine & The Canadian Government

I'm not saying we should reject it since there are always a small number of people who have adverse reactions to vaccinations, but this morning I am having some serious doubts.

Since my daughter doesn't appear to be close to becoming sexually active, for now I'll put a lid on my worries and hold off a bit on making a decision. By then I'll know more about this and whether or not the HPV vaccination is truly a gift that can prevent the kind of misery from cervical cancer and genital warts as described in this post.

Otherwise, please feel free to get a conversation going on your thoughts about the pros and cons of this, and any experience you may have with this issue, or as hinted by Cheri, any ties to eugenics, etc. Thanks.

~ Kit

Important Update, Nov 3, 2008:

The shocking news today is the HPV virus causes 25,000 cancers each year. Make no mistake - this is an epidemic and makes a bout of herpes pale in comparison.

From US News: "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the most common sites for HPV-associated cancers were the cervix, head and neck, anus, vulva, penis and vagina."

Read it, consult with your doctor or your daughter's pediatrician if the vaccination is right for you. Hopefully there will one available for teen and young adult males next year.


  1. Hey KIT, I gotta tell you that I have seriously mixed feelings about this. The bottom line is that they DO NOT know what long term effects may result from this.

    This is a huge money game with the pharma games, and I won't even go there with the relationship between eugenics and experiments on people.

    I understand your concern, but I ask you to exercise EXTREME caution as you make your decision.

    I recommend that you check out these sites:

  2. Cheri T, You're not the only one who has shared concerns with me since I posted this last night. I just added an addendum stressing this. The additional information gives one pause to consider this vaccination. Thank you, and the YouTube videos were great.

  3. This post hits too close to home. A few years ago I was diagnosed with GW's and HPV, even though I'd had protected sex with all three of my previous partners. Unfortunately I was too damn young to ask questions, and still to this day dont feel like I can get a straight answer about HPV from my gyno.

    All I can do is continue to protect myself, keep up with my paps and get tested frequently for STD's. I will not take the vaccine simply because its too new.

    But I can tell you that it is painful, truly painful, to have to tell a guy I like that I had GW's. I wouldnt wish that feeling on my worse enemy.

  4. @KIT:

    You're welcome, and I certainly don't profess to know the answer to whether one should or shouldn't take the vaccine.

    In the end, one must decide for themselves whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

  5. Kit, I agree with Cheri. While I'm not a doc/nurse, I've worked in health care for 20+ years. I'm a little concerned that some of the important questions haven't been answered, not to mention, the vaccine does not prevent all strains of HPV. In my opinion, I would wait a few years to see how if there are any effects vaccinated populations. Believe me, there are a lot of eyes keeping watch on this.

  6. my most fav post of yours since i have been reading u, u should have presented this lecture to my infecyous disese class great job

  7. Torrance, thanks bro. Appreciate that.

    CurvyGurl, that was my conclusion too after finding out more this morn.

    Cheri, Agreed.

    Dom, What a nightmare... I'm very sad to read about this and wish I could I wave a magic wand and cure you. Thank you for sharing.

  8. ive been worried about this myself. ever suspicious of the gov't and pharmaceutical companies, my mom is wary of any vaccine they insist is necessary. she wonders if it's one huge social experiment.

    iono about this one Kit.

  9. The problem that I have it that it's all profit driven. The pharmacuetical companies do their own research studies and can tweak the results to their liking. You'll often find the FDA and these companies in collusion to rush approval through. Approval panel members have been employed by the pharma. companies on the side. It would be laughable were it not serious. They then lobby the federal and state govt's to pass legislation that promotes their product(s) or bottom line. They do this not with my daughters health and best interest in mind but rather their shareholders interest in mind. Based on CDC numbers one would think that certain groups or people with a known family history would be targeted versus an all out blanket. $400 a person, all girls ages 9-26, that's big pimpin!

  10. KIT, I'm back...thanks for the suggestions earlier...I took them...

    Self Disclosure is always the best when used not for personal that what we learned in Grad School?...16 years old..I was diagnosed with HPV, fortunately it was the harmless strain..who knows when I got infected, how, or by who...I started high school at age 13...I started having sex at 14 years old [9th grade]and by the time I was 16 I think I was on my 8th partner..I think, repressed memories don't really allow me to think of my number of partners now...I was told that the form I had could cause's the difference in the strains...4 strains cause warts the others cause can cancer if...depending on the variety you may have to have the cells scrapped off or now frozen off like I did when I was 16...or do nothing and just be monirtored...eventually if you take care of yourself and are healthy it goes's just gone somehow...of course it's now apart of your blood system like the chicken pox you'll always have the virus but it often becomes dormant...Now that I think about it..if I could I would vaccinate myself but vaccinate myself from something I already have? At most I can only be as safe as possible now as to not spread although my doctor has told me it is dormat and 9 out of 10 times will not reactivate itself...Out of my friends from high school [growing up in a poor urban area] 9 our of 10 have HPV with or without do we get by this pandemic?

  11. I'm also concerned about the HPV vaccine. The more I learn about how pharmaceutical research is conducted, the less I trust any medication. It's actually terrifying when you stop to think about it.

    Interesting that it is required of all new immigrants. I'd have to suspect, as you do, that it's another impediment that we can put on immigration.

  12. this might discuss people but you know how they make vaccines

    they take the pus from an infected animal with that disease (like mumps, tuberculosis) and inject that into the vaccine

    i dont know if i would actually want that stuff in my system (or my childrens system for that matter)

    and of course it causes cancer and all other types of stuff

    but unfortunately you have to inject your children with this puss if you want them to get into public school or file for them

    that is sad

    what a government

  13. Tubman, The vaccine is not made from 'pus'. I looked it up
    and it's made "using a protein that resides on the surface of the virus."

    Cherri, 9 out 10 of your old high school friends? Wow. You know, I had no idea when I researched this article that HPV was so prevalent. I honestly thought it was somewhat rare and found it curious that stories about the vaccine were on the front page of all weekend, so I checked it out.

    I didn't get the impression that one can get vaccine after being exposed to the virus, and also read that they don't give it to women past their late 20s. Check with your doctor to make sure this is accurate.

    Mountain Laurel, I share your concerns. At the same time, the alternative of a girl later being exposed to HPV and getting genital warts or cervical cancer sounds much worse and far more common and devastating.

    Everyone, My daughter and I talked about this issue. I was truly surprised she brought it up with one of her classmates, who said she had received the vaccine and had no side effects whatsoever. This, along with how 1 out 4 American girls between 13 and 17 have had at least one shot and only a small number had side effects, is encouraging to me.

  14. its made from the protein cells of an infected outbreak

    they are using cells from a diseased piece of flesh for the cure?

    when the polio vaccine was given to people all over the world in the mid 1900's years later the vast majority of people who got the vaccine got cancer because the pus or infected cells from the vaccine had cancer in them but the micorscopes couldnt pick it up at the time

    so over the years the cancer cells multiplied and because greater all because of this infected flesh

    vaccines are dangerous

    sorry to be a no it all

    nobody likes no it alls lol

  15. @ KIT They will definitely give you the vaccine even if you have already been exposed. Just because you have one strain of HPV doesnt mean the vaccine cant protect against one of the many others.

  16. Dom, That's excellent to know and intuitively sounds right.

    Tubman, I know you're scared by this vaccine, and the side effect stories give anyone pause, but you know what? I have a strong belief in mind over matter. When I went part time to be more with my kids, I lost my health insurance. We made up our minds to not get sick because we can't afford it. Except for strep throat with my youngest, it's worked so far.

    Since this HPV thing is easier to catch than the common cold and there are stories of women catching it when they've never had sex w/o a condom. That's scary - and it's unbelievably prevalent and cancer is a bitch.

    Unless worse news comes out, I've decided to get my daughter the vaccine when school ends this coming summer since that's when teens go crazy, although I don't think she will but one never knows. Maybe by then there will be a little more info and improvement re: side effects.

  17. I am just mad we are always having women get this and that and exclude the men. My teen is 18 and cannot get it now. I would not have let her get if even if you could. These scare tactics on the commercials anger me. Then not a one mentions the other half of the population.

    I can go on and on about this but I won't. I get angry every time I see the commercial for the vaccine. It is sad how females have to do so much and the males just go on. *sigh* SMH.

  18. would you considering an all natural herbal alternative

  19. Tubman, babe, you seem really pressed about this issue, lol. I can't help but wonder if you have a pre-teen or teenage daughter.

    To answer your question (with a smile and a giggle), hell no. After what I've read about the horrors of HPV, her azz is getting the shot next summer, and as possible side effects, God will have to watch her back.

    Shai, why can't your 18 year old get the vaccine? That sounds strange to me, since Immigration requires it for women through age 27. And one commenter here, Dom, said docs will vaccinate even if a woman has it since it will protect against other strains of it - some of which definitely cause cervical cancer. But then I've read docs won't give it to older women.

    She should check with her doc if she ever decides to pursue it.

  20. I thought if a person had to be a virgin to get it.

    I still wouldn't say she needs to get it. I don't trust it right now.

    And I say males need to be vaccinated then. Why only half the population?

  21. Shai, agree 100% about the fellas needing it; hell, they need it more, and from what I read, scientists are working on a vaccine for males.

    As for the virgin bit, this is preferred b/c it rules out the possibility that she was exposed to one of the over 100 strains of HPV (most not deadly, I think four causes genital warts). The vaccine protects against 70% of the strains and maybe all the warts.

    BTW, years ago I saw a photo of the privates of woman with advanced HIV in a medical book of AIDS; she also had genital warts. Because her immune system was so destroyed, they multiplied so much that I honestly didn't know what it was. It didn't look like a vagina. When I read the caption underneath, I was horrified. While we can pray and hope our daughters will never contract HIV, people slip up, condoms break, and shit happens. It is that haunting photo, I think, that motivates me more than anything to roll the dice and get my kid vaccinated when she's just a little bit older.

    Check with a doctor over the virgin thing. Some sources say the vaccine is given regardless up to age 26. Good luck and God bless you/ your daughter with whatever decision you make.

  22. The Centers for Disease Control released a report this week linking nearly 1,000 injuries and more than a dozen deaths to the HPV vaccine. These warnings often go unnoticed and more and more young women are being exposed to the possibility of being injured by this vaccine. Most of the time HPV has no symptoms so people do not know they have it.

  23. Thanks Tanyaa. I added an addendum earlier this evening citing the latest news report of 25,000 annual cases of HPV-related cancers in men and women, with a link to that article.

    This is an epidemic.

  24. The science of vaccines - they help prevent full on illness by exposing you to a less harmful part orby-product of the disease causing agent. Our cells have amazing memory and it is that memory that protects us. But exposure is needed. I hate that the vaccine is being offered to girls at such young ages. I hate more that young girls are having sex at pre-teen ages. HPV is sexually transmitted.

    A couple of more facts. Your exposure to HPV increases the earler you initiate sex. So don't be in a hurry to have sex.
    HPV exposure increases with the number of partners you have - which is also a factor of how young you start. So don't get into the habit of having sex with Every boyfriend.

    Vaccinating early is the best defense for young ladies who are most at risk of early (and perhaps unprotected) sex.

    Hopefully, your relationship with your daughter is open and honest enough that she will tell you when she's ready (hopefully yrs from now) and then you can get the shot.

  25. Urban Scientist, Thank you so much for your feedback. My worries about her not being able to handle peer pressure in her first year of high school have faded away. She's very grounded, so I haven't gotten it. Thanks for the other info.


Hi, this is Kit.

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