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Gardasil: we must not ignore the risks

By Renate Klein and Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Friday, 1 June 2007

The much trumpeted inject-every-girl-free with Gardasil campaign has run into a bit of a snag. Four Melbourne schoolgirls were rushed to hospital recently after receiving the vaccine promoted as preventing cervical cancer.

Sixteen other girls were reported sick. One student was left paralysed for six hours. "I couldn't move at all," she said. "There were girls dropping like flies."

Similar reports are emerging from other schools.


Of course, the vaccine couldn’t be at fault. CSL, the company that makes Gardasil, said the reactions were due to “stress” and “anxiety”. The girls were all worked up. They’d got themselves into a state and panicked. The vaccine’s inventor, Ian Frazer, said it was a case of auto-suggestion.

We shouldn’t dismiss the bad experience of these girls just because we really want the vaccine to work. Women's health is more important.

“We’re not aware of a problem with this particular vaccine” a Victorian Department of Health spokesperson said.

The spokesperson seemed blissfully unaware of at least three deaths in the US related to the vaccine. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) records cite a physician’s assistant report that a female patient “died of a blood clot three hours after getting the Gardasil vaccine”. Two other girls, aged 12 and 19, died as a result of heart problems and/or blood clotting after receiving the vaccine.

A visit to the website of the United States National Vaccine Information Center also reveals real problems with the vaccine. The centre collects voluntary information about adverse reactions to vaccinations.

According to NVIC President Barbara Loe Fisher: "There are twice as many children collapsing and four times as many children experiencing tingling, numbness and loss of sensation after getting a Gardasil vaccination compared to those getting a tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccination.”


The FDA has detailed 1,637 reports of adverse reactions to the vaccine. But as Fisher points out, very few adverse events are ever reported in the US. "If only 1 to 4 per cent of all adverse events associated with Gardasil vaccination are being reported, there could have been up to 38,000 health problems after Gardasil vaccination in 2006 which were never reported," she says.

Other case studies published online describe cold sweats, difficulty in walking, disorientation, dizziness, dyskinesia, headache, hyperventilation, bronchospasms, pallor, paraesthesia, tinnitus and tremors.

Parents are right to question whether the vaccine is in the best interests of their daughters. A lack of trial data - especially on girls this age - suggests that Australia¹s rush to be the first country to provide a fully funded immunisation campaign was premature.

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This is an expanded version of an article first published in The Age, May 25, 2007.

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About the Authors

Dr Renate Klein, a biologist and social scientist, is a long-term health researcher and has written extensively on reproductive technologies and feminist theory. She is a former associate professor in Women's Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne, a founder of FINRRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering) and an Advisory Board Member of Hands Off Our Ovaries.

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Renate Klein
All articles by Melinda Tankard Reist

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