INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Monday's GOP debate put the spotlight back on the HPV vaccine – and raised new concerns.
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann sharply criticized rival candidate Rick Perry for having signed an executive order in 2007 as governor of Texas mandating that all girls in the state get the vaccine. The measure was later blocked by the legislature.
Though the human papilloma virus vaccine can also protect against cervical cancer and is a recommended vaccine for girls around the ages of 11 or 12, some critics believe the vaccine is potentially harmful. A vocal minority of parents agree.
Some say the vaccine can cause serious side effects, including seizures, neurological problems and even paralysis. Hobart mother Amy Pingel is among those critics, and she points to her daughter as proof.
Zeda Pingel was a normal, healthy 13-year-old who loved her family, her friends and her phone. The popular cheerleader and A-B student texted and talked tirelessly. But now she's silent. She is strapped to her wheelchair, her head leaning against a head rest, her eyes wandering, seemingly sightless. She can neither walk, nor eat, nor speak.
"I would give anything to hear anything out of her," Amy Pingel said.
It's been three years since she heard her little girl's voice. She said Zeda's problems began with a simple check-up.
"We went in for a wellness check-up, and it was time for her to get these vaccines," Pingel said.
One of the vaccines she was given was Gardasil, which protects against the sexually transmitted virus HPV.
"She had a major seizure 14 days later," Pingel said.
Four days after the seizure, Pingel watched the light fade from her daughter's eyes. And she blames Gardasil.
Vaughn Rickert, PsyD, doubts that connection, though. When asked whether Gardasil could have caused Zeda's seizure and brain damage the director of adolescent medicine and an adolescent health researcher at the IU School of Medicine.responded: "I have significant scientific doubts about that."
He points to research showing that the vaccine not only is safe but also is more than 96 percent effective in preventing the transmission of the strains of HPV that cause most types of cervical cancer. He believes it's important for all children - boys and girls - to be vaccinated, because 80 percent of sexually active adults carry the HPV virus.
Because HPV is one of the causes of cervical cancer, researchers believe vaccinating children before they become sexually active will greatly reduce the number of adults who develop that cancer. Rickert stressed that severe adverse reactions are extraordinarily rare .
"I would consider that very unusual," he said of Zeda Pingel's health troubles shortly after her vaccination, "and I would question what was going on at or around the time."
But the girl's mother maintains her belief that Gardasil stole the life from her little girl.
Asked whether there's anything she would now do differently, she responded tearfully: "I would do research."
So, what does Indiana require when it comes to the HPV vaccine? It requires any school that enrolls sixth-grade girls to inform their parents about the possible link between HPV and cervical cancer. They also have to tell parents about the optional vaccination. As for doctors, state law leaves it up to their discretion how much they push the vaccine.
While it is not a required vaccination for school enrollment, it's important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all strongly recommend that girls receive the HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12.
Gardasil came on the market in 2006. There have been 39 million doses sold.
UPDATE 10:45 P.M.: Many Indiana State Police dispatches were reporting accidents on major roads due to slick weather conditions Sunday night.
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