Bioethics Blogs

Evidence and the Marketing of the HPV Vaccine

Abby Lippman, Alana Cattapan, and Kelly Holloway argue for rigorous, conflict-free research into the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine and for a critical approach to its use.

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In a recent post on Impact Ethics, Juliet Guichon focuses on the Calgary Catholic School Board’s inclusion of a letter from Catholic authorities in the information and consent packages for the in-school administration of an HPV vaccine. Guichon objects to one of the claims in the letter—that the vaccine is not the best way to prevent cervical cancer. She insists that the vaccine is “safe and effective.” Although Guichon’s overall goal to prevent cervical cancer is a laudable one, her unequivocal endorsement of the HPV vaccine as “safe and effective” can be challenged. The vaccine may have been deemed safe and effective enough for distribution, but we simply do not know enough about it at this stage to make any definitive claims.

To be clear, we agree with Guichon that all who are offered an HPV vaccination in-school or elsewhere (and their parents) must be given accurate and full information in order to make truly informed choices. But we have concerns about evidence and the marketing of the HPV vaccine, particularly as HPV vaccination programs have been made a systematic part of public healthcare in several provinces.

To start, many of the studies supporting the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine are compromised by conflict of interest. Nearly all of the research cited by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in its 2014 opinion paper endorsing the use of the vaccine was partially or completely funded by Merck (the makers of one HPV vaccine, Gardasil) or by GlaxoSmithKline (the makers of a similar HPV vaccine, Cervarix).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.