[back] Gardasil
[back] Guillain-Barre syndrome

Family claims cervical-cancer vaccine caused paralysis

Health Department disputes that determination

by Jo Rafferty
Nevada Appeal News Service

May 17, 2007

Fourteen-year-old Jessica Vega went into the emergency room at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno on Thursday night when she couldn't move her legs and her arms felt weak.

"Her legs are paralyzed, her arms are affected. She is very weak in her arms," said Tondra Vees a family friend. "She has to use a walker. Even with that, she can't get to the bathroom. She can't stand up at all."

Vees said the girl has been determined by her doctor to have Guillain-Barre syndrome, an acute, autoimmune condition that can lead to paralysis.

The girl, whose mother Rhonda Vega is a full-time teacher's aide at Carson Valley Middle School, received her first booster shot of the cervical cancer prevention vaccine Gardasil on May 2.

"According to her neurologist, that's what caused this," said Vees,

Nevada State Health Officer Dr. Bradford Lee said the Web sites the Nevada State Health Department checks don't list the girl's symptoms as a side-effect.

"We are aware of a report of an alleged side-effect," said Lee. "Based on the CDC's site and the manufacturer's site, this is not a side-effect of the vaccine."

Vees said the girl has been determined by her doctor to have Guillain-Barre syndrome, an acute, autoimmune condition that can lead to paralysis.

Vees said the girl was being moved to a rehabilitation center on Tuesday.

"Thankfully, since Thursday, it doesn't appear to be ending up in her respiratory system, although she's getting weaker," Vees said. "They were going to let her go home, but now she's not. I think they expect her to be in (rehabilitation) for a month or so."

Vees cites a Feb. 21 report on the National Vaccine Information Center Web site, nvic.org, in which NVIC president Barbara Loe Fisher states, "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 TDAP (tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis) vaccination. There have been reports of facial paralysis and Guillain-Barre syndrome."

Vees cites that according to nvic.org, the vaccine's manufacturer, Merck & Co., studied Gardasil in fewer than 1,200 girls younger than age 16 in "pre-licensure trials."

According to Vees, the girl had not received any other vaccines at the same time, and prior to Thursday was "healthy as a horse."

Public information officer Martha Framsted and Lee, both of the Nevada State Health Department, said Monday they check for vaccine information only from government-approved Web sites.

"We always try to go to the Web sites that have been scientifically proven," said Framsted. "I don't believe (the National Vaccine Information Center) is one of our federal partners."

The agencies the health department does check with before approving a vaccine are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), the manufacturer's Web site (in this case gardasil.com and merckvaccines.com) and with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the only entity in the federal government which can make recommendations regarding routine administration of vaccines, according to the CDC.

The Web site gardasil.com states that the only side effects are "pain, swelling, itching and redness at the injection site, fever, nausea and dizziness."

Neither Lee nor Framsted wanted to speculate on why the doctor would say the girl's paralysis was a side-effect of the vaccine.

According to Bonnie Dellner, the chief school nurse for the Douglas County School District, the normal cost for the three vaccinations of Gardasil is $500. The school district offers these vaccines at $15 each.

Dellner said the school had received no complaints after an April 29 immunization clinic at Douglas High School.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil on June 8. Gardasil is for girls and women ages 9 to 26. Gardasil is the only vaccine that may help guard against diseases caused by HPV, which may cause cervical cancer.