Questions about the safety and effects of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine have been raised after a 12-year old Wisconsin girl was reported dead hours after receiving an injection. While the cause of the girl’s death is still unknown, her parents have pressed for further investigation and have publicly stated that they suspect the vaccine may be at fault. However, the CDC and a number of health professionals have maintained that adverse effects stemming from the HPV vaccination are rare and parents should continue to schedule the vaccinations.
Meredith Prohaska, an active, healthy 6th grader from Waukesha, Wisconsin, reportedly visited her doctor on July 30, 2014 for treatment for a sore throat. While she was there, like many children her age, Prohaska was also given her first shot of the HPV vaccine. In the hours that followed, the girl reportedly complained of tiredness and repeatedly dozed off. Hours later, when her mother returned from a quick errand to pick up dinner, she found Prohaska unresponsive on the floor. Her mother performed CPR and called an ambulance, but her daughter was pronounced dead at the hospital. So far, the autopsy has been ruled inconclusive. The family is awaiting the results of further tests.
Prohaska’s death occurs at a time when many doctors find themselves facing persistent societal suspicions about the safety and worth of the HPV vaccine. Although statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that vaccination rates for both boys and girls in 2013 had increased from the previous year, the numbers were still low when compared to vaccination rates for other common injections, such as the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. Physicians believe a number of factors could be behind this lagging percentage, including the relatively recent introduction of the injection, the somewhat misguided concept that it is meant to prevent a sexually transmitted disease rather than a method of cancer prevention, and the sudden change which required both boys and girls, rather than simply girls, receive the vaccine. However, research has demonstrated no serious health risks associated with the injection.
More than 100 different strains of the Human Papillomavirus are known to exist, all with a tendency to affect the body in different ways. HPV has been linked to a number of types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal and penile cancer, as well as genital warts. The vaccination itself has been shown to occasionally cause fainting and other minor problems, and the CDC found only one case of allergic reaction in 600,558 cases, a figure constant with most vaccines. As a result, physicians typically urge patients to be vaccinated, as the potential ramifications of HPV are far more common than serious problems that could result from the injection. And though vaccination rates are still considered problematically low, parents seem to be slowly following their advice: almost 74% of parents who had their daughters vaccinated reported that they did so at a doctor’s advice, compared with 52% of parents who were advised to have their children vaccinated and did not do so.
Meredith Prohaska’s family have donated their daughter’s organs and tissue, and now await the test results that will hopefully reveal her cause of death. The couple has reportedly been using Facebook and a GoFundMe page to advise other parents to be aware of potential side effects. However, until the findings are released, it is unclear whether or not the HPV vaccine was truly at fault, and therefore recommended that parents continue to have their children receive the vaccinations.