Dr Aaron Carroll replies to a question about one of those chain emails claiming the HPV vaccine is ineffective and harmful and sets the record straight:
In brief, the email claims that one of the researchers behind the vaccine has come out against it. That turns out to be at best misleading. One of the researchers does indeed say that the manufacturer is overstating the vaccine’s benefits, which may be true, since the very long-run effectiveness has not yet been proven. But other vaccines require occasional boosters, and that doesn’t mean they’re not worth getting. There’s also the suggestion that regular PAP smears make the vaccine unnecessary for dealing with cervical cancer, but that ignores the other types of cancer caused by HPV infection, and it exaggerates the effectiveness of PAP smears. The HPV vaccine really is beneficial.
A more recent item from Dr Carroll points out a very large epidemiological study (reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association) found that adolescent girls receiving the HPV vaccine got 69% to 82% fewer cases of genital warts in comparison with unvaccinated girls, depending on how many doses of the vaccine they had received (the more, the better). Moreover, girls receiving three doses of the vaccine between the ages of 10 and 13 saw a reduction of 92%.
Vaccines do present risks, which can be said about pretty much everything, but what I hear and read from people who know that they’re talking about is that the incidence of serious side effects from HPV vaccines is microscopic and vastly outweighed by the benefits.