Some Girls Faint After HPV Vaccine Shot

The groundbreaking vaccine that prevents cervical cancer in girls is gaining a reputation as the most painful of childhood shots, health experts say.

BY Matthew Van Atta

January 05 2008 1:00 AM ET

The
groundbreaking vaccine that prevents cervical cancer in
girls is gaining a reputation as the most painful of
childhood shots, health experts say.

Health officials
have touted the Gardasil vaccine as an important new
protection against a cancer-causing sexually transmitted
virus. In recent months they've also noted reports of
pain and fainting from the shot.

During Gardasil's
first year of use, reports of girls fainting from
vaccinations climbed, but it's not clear whether the pain of
the cervical cancer vaccine was the reason for the
reaction.

''This vaccine
stings a lot,'' said Patsy Stinchfield, an infectious
disease expert at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of
Minnesota, while speaking at a recent meeting of
vaccination experts in Atlanta.

It sure does,
according to 18-year-old Lauren Fant. She said other shots
tend to hurt only at the moment of the needle stick, and not
after the vaccine plunges in. ''It burns,'' said the
college freshman from Marietta, Ga.

The pain is
short-lived, girls say; many react with little more than a
grimace. But some teens say it's uncomfortable driving with
or sleeping on the injected arm for up to a day after
getting the shot.

Officials at
Merck & Co., which makes the vaccine, acknowledge the
sting. They attribute it partly to the virus-like particles
in the shot. Premarketing studies showed more reports
of pain from Gardasil than from dummy shots, and
patients reported more pain when given shots with more
of the particles.

Meanwhile, U.S.
health officials have noticed a rise in reports of
vaccine-associated fainting in girls. From 2002 to 2004
there were about 50 reports of fainting; from 2005
until last July, there were about 230. About 180 of
those cases followed a shot of Gardasil, which came on the
market in 2006.

But it's not
clear that Gardasil's sting is related to the fainting
increase, said Barbara Slade, an immunization safety
specialist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Teens tend to faint from needles, so a
three-dose vaccine for adolescents would be expected to
prompt some added fainting, she said. Researchers aren't
sure why teens faint more than other age groups, but
nervousness may be a factor.

Gardasil is the
first vaccine approved specifically to target the human
papilloma virus, or HPV, which causes cervical and vaginal
cancer. The Food and Drug Administration approved it
for girls ages 9 to 26. Preliminary studies indicate
only 10% to 20% of them have gotten at least one dose.

But researchers
said those rates are due to reasons other than worries
about pain, including Gardasil's $120-a-shot price, limited
supplies initially, and mixed feelings by some parents
and doctors about a vaccination that assumes girls
have sex.

Andy Andrews, an
Atlanta-area pediatrician, said he doesn't believe the
shot's ouch has diminished demand. ''A lot of the older
teens are coming in themselves, without a parent. So
they themselves are motivated to come back in,'' he
said.

A second HPV
vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix, is under FDA review and
could become available in 2008. Complaints of injection pain
have not surfaced in clinical trials, according to
Liad Diamond, a company spokeswoman. (AP)

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