Gardasil is a vaccine against types 6, 11, 16, and 18, of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer, as well as some cases of anal, vulvar, vaginal, and penile cancer. Rather fortuitously, the major HPV coat protein can spontaneously self-assemble into virus-like particles (VLPs) that resemble authentic virus particles but lack the viral DNA. This means they cannot cause cancer but can trigger an immune response. The Gardasil vaccine is made up of VLPs assembled from the coat proteins of four different HPV types.
As HPV is most often transmitted by sexual activity, in New Zealand Gardasil is on the national immunisation schedule and is given to girls at the age of 12. This doesn’t mean boys shouldn’t receive it, but that with limited funds it is not considered cost effective. Professor Funk (responsible for the excellent Placebo video) fronted a brilliant campaign aimed at encouraging guys to get vaccinated in Australia. Unfortunately the video won’t play outside of Australia but there is a transcript of it here.
AML is a cancer characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. While it is quite rare in children, that doesn’t automatically mean that the Gardasil vaccine was responsible. Unfortunately this is the conclusion jumped to by Chace’s parents. Please don’t get me wrong. I completely sympathise with the Topperwien’s. They are searching for answers as to why their child has AML. And the mistaken injection of Gardasil seems to fit the bill for them.
“We feel the development of his immune system has been interrupted” they say.
In New Zealand and many other countries, at 6 weeks old children receive their first doses of Prevenar, to vaccinate them against the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Infanrix-hexa to vaccinate them against Diptheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Polio, Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B. Prevenar is made up cell membrane sugars of different types of S. pneumoniae while Infanrix-hexa is a cocktail of deactivated bacterial toxins, bacterial cell membranes and other proteins and three inactivated viruses. My point is that, while this cocktail may seem terrifying, it isn’t. Our bodies (yes, even at 6 weeks old) are well designed to recognise these bits and pieces as ‘foreign’ and mount an immune response to them. The HPV proteins that Chace inadvertently received are highly unlikely to have interrupted his immune system. More likely they will have vaccinated him against HPV.
The Topperwien’s have given up their jobs to look after Chace at this difficult time and have set up a facebook page to raise money. This is presumably why the story has appeared in the papers. It is sad to see some of the people who have befriended the page. What this family don’t need now are the raging anti-vaxxers and the miracle-cure peddlers. But they are out in force. I wish Chace a speedy recovery and hope that his family do not fall prey to these ‘friends’.