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American television presenter Katie Couric may have been cyber-lynched in December for interviewing mothers of two young girls whose health dramatically deteriorated after they received injections of the Gardasil vaccine against cervical cancer. But now an emerging body of medical literature is confirming the HPV vaccine’s link to nervous and immune system disorders that have wreaked havoc with some young women and girls, and the cases draw more questions than answers about Gardasil’s safety.
Two recent studies in medical literature describe seven girls and young women who were severely debilitated by a disorder that includes extreme dizziness, intense fatigue, tachycardia, heart palpitations, chest pain, severe headaches and insomnia following HPV vaccination.
The cases of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a rare autonomic nervous system disorder, are described in recent issues of the Journal of Investigative Medicine High Impact Case Reports and the European Journal of Neurology, and include girls who were wheel-chair bound following injections of Merck's Gardasil vaccine against cervical cancer. Both studies raise questions about the safety of the HPV vaccine. But more significantly they point to a body of recent evidence that links vaccination not just to POTS but to a much wider range of autoimmune sicknesses including multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erthematosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The recent case study, published in March, describes a 14-year-old previously healthy girl who developed flu-like symptoms, sore throat, low-grade fever, fatigue, swollen glands, and intense headaches in February 2009, approximately 2 months after her second HPV vaccine injection. Over the course of the following week, her headache intensified and she developed light and sound sensitivity, altered taste sensations, loss of appetite, gait disturbances, and progressive leg weakness until she could not walk without assistance.
By March 2009, according to the study, "her condition worsened and she quit regular school attendance due to progressively disabling symptoms." She began fainting and developed "incapacitating chronic fatigue," impaired balance and co-ordination and a "diminished ability to focus." By late 2009 she was able to resume attending school, but only two hours per day and in a wheelchair.
By the end of 2010, the study notes the girls symptoms: "persistent incapacitating headaches, dizziness, recurrent syncope, lower extremity weakness, poor motor coordination, fatigue, neck pain, joint pains, numbness in the legs, blurred vision, photophobia, phonophobia, cognitive impairment, insomnia, tachycardia, dyspnea, impaired thermoregulation, cold extremities, blush discoloration of toes, excessive hair loss, gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances, altered sense of taste, diminished appetite, and weight loss (20 pounds within 3 months of symptoms onset)."
Psychiatric evaluations ruled out "psychosomatic" factors and anxiety. The study's authors called the girl's condition POTS with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
POTS is recognized as a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, or ANS. The ANS can also be thought of as the "automatic nervous system" because it includes all the functions that we don't have to consciously think about– everything from heart rate, balance, sweating and digestion to bladder control and sleep.
POTS was previously known to follow viral infection, pregnancy and head trauma and females of reproductive age are affected five times more frequently than males. But there is growing evidence that, at least in a subset, it is an autoimmune disorder – one in which the body's defence system mistakenly perceives its own components as foreign and launches a sustained "friendly fire." Elevated levels of autoantibodies (markers of friendly fire and other immunological markers) have been identified in POTS patients and there is speculation about their targets including autonomic neurons, cardiac proteins and vascular receptors.
Immunization is considered a potential pathway for this pathogenesis via something called "molecular mimicry" -- where antibodies against vaccine components "cross-react" with innate body proteins.
The study, whose authors include Yehuda Shoenfeld, founder of the Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases in Israel, put this case of POTS and CFS under the wider umbrella of the recently identified Autoimmune/auto-inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants or ASIA syndrome. ASIA is a broad spectrum of neurological and immunological disorders that result in "genetically susceptible individuals" following exposure to toxins including those like aluminum added to vaccines. "The safety trials for Gardasil (which is an aluminum-adjuvanted vaccine) did not include a true inactive placebo but rather an aluminum-adjuvant-containing placebo, despite much data showing that aluminum in vaccine-relevant exposures can be toxic to humans," it states. "In the last decade, studies on animal models have repeatedly demonstrated the ability of aluminum adjuvants to inflict immune-mediated diseases by themselves."
The authors suggest that POTS is significantly underreported. POTS is listed on the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System as an adverse reaction to HPV in only 0.07% of cases, yet its symptoms are listed in between 4% an 16% of the reports -- and three to five times more frequently with Gardasil compared to vaccines against meningitis and chicken pox. But POTS is raised in other medical studies in association with H1N1 and Hepatis B vaccination as well.
The Gardasil case study comes on the heels of another case series study published in January this year. Williamsburg, N.Y. neurologist Svetlana Blitshteyn described six girls and women aged 12 to 22 who became ill between six days and two months after being vaccinated with Gardasil. All of the patients were previously healthy and rapidly developed symptoms including fainting, dizziness, nerve tingling, diarrhea, weight loss, urinary incontinence and headaches.
In one case, a healthy 18-year-old girl felt numbness and tingling in her right arm 3 weeks after receiving the first Gardasil vaccine injection. Over the following 3 months, she developed lower back pain, neck stiffness and leg pain that made it difficult for her to sit in class.
"Despite the symptoms experienced after the first injection, she received a second Gardasil vaccine three months after the first injection, which resulted in significant exacerbation of previous symptoms," reports the study. "Additional symptoms, such as fatigue, orthostatic intolerance, dizziness, urinary incontinence and blurry vision appeared, which in conjunction with pain and numbness resulted in significant functional impairment. In fact, the patient became wheelchair-bound at that point and had to take medical leave from college for a full semester."
Although each of the girls in Blitshteyn's study showed improvements after three years, all had "residual" complications and their long-term prognosis was unknown.
POTS is classified as a "rare" disorder, affecting less than one in 200,000 people, but there is no current official data and it is a phenomenon that seems to be increasing globally. In 2007, for example, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia opened a dedicated clinic which its medical director Jeffrey Boris calls "all POTS all the time." In Denmark, where HPV vaccination became free in 2009, only four POTS cases were recorded in the Health Ministry's pharmacovigilance data in November 2013, but there were 23 cases by March 28 this year.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation from the POTS studies however, is the review of time lags between vaccination and onset of symptoms.
"Our patient's symptoms began manifesting two months following vaccination," reads the study authored by four immunologists in Canada, Italy, and Israel. "An interval of six weeks between exposure and outcome is often used as evidence of a plausible causal association; however, immune and autoimmune diseases are chronic diseases that more often than not have a long incubation time."
A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine , for example, found that patients with systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), an autoimmune disease that causes extreme fatigue and joint pain and myriad other symptoms, had signature autoantibodies in their bloodstream an average 9.4 years before they were diagnosed. In other words, the blood markers were there years before the patients had any symptoms.
Similarly, the study which reviews recent research on the phenomenon, notes that "postvaccination adverse immune phenomena can have long latency periods (ie. month to years following immunization.)"
A 2013 study in Clinical Rheumatology, for example, describes cases of systemic lupus following Gardasil vaccination that developed gradually after non-specific symptoms.
As long ago as 1982, research had established late onset of autoimmune disease including Guillain –Barre syndrome linked to vaccination. "In such cases, the disease would first manifest with vague symptoms [myalgia, arthalgia, muscle weakness, etc] which were frequently deemed insignificant and thus ignored," notes the study. "These symptoms otherwise known as 'bridging symptoms' and consistent with a mild subclinical disease, would progress slowly and insidiously until exposure to a secondary immune stimulus. The latter would then trigger the rapid and acute manifestation of the disease."
The implications of this research, taken together, are profound. What if POTS is not simply a rare and bizarre disease affecting a handful of genetically pre-disposed girls, but a canary for a much wider phenomenon? If vaccine insult to the immune system initially manifests as vague symptoms of joint pain and flu-like illness and "bridging symptoms" are misdiagnosed and ignored, then lie dormant for a secondary trigger to precipitate into full-blown autoimmune disease, perhaps years later, what proportion of the current epidemic of autoimmune disease has its origin in vaccination? A 2010 report of the American Autoimmune-Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that 50 million Americans are currently living with at least one of the more than 140 identified autoimmune diseases ranging from Crohn's disease and type 1 diabetes to multiple sclerosis and psoriasis. It is also a leading cause of death among girls and young women.
If adults' post-vaccine complaints are "deemed insignificant and ignored," how often is late onset vaccine injury in babies, weeks after vaccination, dismissed as simple "crankiness" or "colic?"
This current research opens huge avenues of medical exploration, too. Is there a way to identify "susceptible individuals" before they are vaccinated? What are the triggers, like hormones and environmental toxins, that launch latent autoimmunity? And what are the protective mechanisms, such as nutritional status, operating during latency and can those be shored up to prevent autoimmune disease?
At the very least, these studies suggest that initial reactions to HPV and other vaccination should preclude further vaccination. It is easy to find cases on the internet, like those in Blitshteyn's study, who showed initial reactions to the first shot but were still encouraged to get the next injection – with devastating consequences.
HPV is a new vaccine that is being rolled out on millions of young girls and women, and now boys and men, globally, but few have heard of autoimmunity as a potential side effect. "Cumulatively, the list of serious adverse reactions related to HPV vaccination worldwide includes deaths, convulsions, paraesthesia, paralysis, Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), transverse myelitis, facial palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, anaphylaxis, autoimmune disorders, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolisms, and cervical cancers," declare Canadian vaccine researchers Lucija Tomljenovic and Christopher Shaw in an article in the Annals of Medicine published last March.
Add now to that list POTS syndrome, which raises a fundamental question about vaccination: has it really prevented terrifying crippling diseases, or merely created new ones?
Blitshteyn, S. Postural tachycardia syndrome following human papillomavirus vaccination. Eur J Neurol 2014 Jan;21(1):135-9. doi: 10.1111/ene.12272. Epub 2013 Sep 16.PMID: 24102827