Trust in the pharma industry was for me a given. I was mercifully oblivious of the dubious practices and entirely false assumptions that lie at the basis of vaccine development. In late 2004, I even did a feature story for a TV news program about the testing of the HPV vaccines in a reference group in Finland. Later, when Gardasil was launched with a recommendation for women aged up to 30 without previous history of HPV infections, I was all ears. A friend and I were at the upper age limit but we both deemed it a good idea to get the vaccine; even at the cost of some $80 a shot (times three!). At the time, I was working in Beijing, China and living with the constant haze of fine-particle pollution that covers the city’s skies. Perhaps that was part of the reason for the adverse reaction I suffered.
The first shot was given at an international clinic in Beijing at the end of May 2008 (according to the notes from the clinic, it was batch number NG39310. The second dose was from that same batch). As far as I can remember, it even entailed a prior doctor’s visit, which was almost nonsensical. I cannot recall whether I signed off on a form relieving the clinic from any possible responsibility in case of side effects. I did not feel anything immediately that I remember because it was customary to wait around for 20 minutes after the shot. Rather, the problems began some weeks later, perhaps even up to a month later, with a flu-like sensation and fatigue, which developed into a state of apathy and brain fog and slowed down my work considerably. I felt unwell and looked it, to the extent that friends and colleagues expressed worry, but I attributed it to the grey skies and the haze over Beijing.
At the beginning of August, the second shot ensued. After that one, I remember having some pelvic pain and unease, nausea and dizziness with period cramps and a bleeding that began late. I was remarkably easily irritated and unnerved. I have always been a night owl rather than a morning person, but after two vaccination rounds I was so fatigued in the morning I just had real trouble getting out of bed. I was constantly tired and had spells when I just could not pay attention to all that was happening around me in a meeting or discussion at work.
By the time I had the third dose of Gardasil it was winter (given December 5th, 2008, batch number NH27420). I remember that episode from eight years ago when I walked out of the doctor’s office. I felt a sudden onset of nausea, like sea-sickness. I felt weary and apathetic. I was not sleeping well. I could not fall asleep until the wee hours in the morning. A few months later, when I had left China and was back at my old job, I felt like a ghost in the morning. I was not doing well, but then again I realize I have been lucky, as I am not one of those worse hit by Gardasil, even though it has taken a toll on my health and my capacity to work.
A year went by and I was still managing somehow, with occasional spells of either insomnia or an abnormal onset of sleepiness. I then fell ill with mononucleosis, an inflammatory disease that lasted for a year and a half and left me with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). I am still struggling, but have discovered some coping strategies. Strangely, none of this has affected my physical fitness; I can do work-outs at the gym, do long walks and go jogging, even though the fatigue is there most of the time, lurking. I understand that to be in actual effect an autoimmune condition.
Worse, there is the enhanced cancer risk that has been reported because of the recombinant genetically engineered HPV DNA and the contamination of the vaccine with some HPV strains, other than those it was supposedly designed to protect against. What are the implications for my future health as one of those affected by this health scandal, callously promulgated by the pharma industry? After being vaccinated with Gardasil I have once had an abnormal pap smear test in 2011, other than that I have never shown any symptoms of cervical dysplasia.
I cannot believe that the marketing of the vaccine still is allowed to continue and that Merck does not acknowledge the suffering it has brought on women and teenage girls. What really bothers me is that there seem to be no efforts to determine what exactly is the mechanism by which the content of the vaccine causes the autoimmune disorders and the injury to the nervous system. Why are not those pathways investigated so that we would get some clarity into what is happening? How exactly do the components of the vaccine affect the human body? What is the scope for compensation, if any, for those of us injured? I find it appalling that Merck does not take responsibility for the damage caused. It seems the only serious government action that has been taken is in Japan, where vaccinations were halted and the HPV vaccines were taken out of the national vaccine program. In other countries, there has been substantial debate about the negative effects of the HPV vaccine. I was appalled to learn just now from a friend in Denmark that Gardasil is being administered for free to women over the age of 30 under a program that is supposed to prevent cancer, even though the fate of the vaccinated Danish teenagers who have suffered serious neurologic injuries has been given much attention. How can this be allowed to continue?