Informed Consent and HPV…

The advertisements are all over television and the internet: sad-faced teens, wondering aloud why their parents failed to protect them with a vaccine for the human papilloma virus, commonly referred to as HPV. The best known of these HPV vaccines is marketed under the brand name Gardasil.

Most parents are accustomed to vaccinating their children on a schedule suggested by their pediatrician for diseases such as measles, mumps, and chicken pox. The HPV vaccine is somewhat different. It is newer, for one thing, approved initially about ten years ago. Today's parents, unlike their children, did not have the opportunity to receive this vaccine, so they are less familiar with it. And unlike vaccines designed to prevent common childhood illnesses, Gardasil is designed to prevent ill effects, including cervical and other types of cancer, from a virus that is usually sexually transmitted.

Gardasil is recommended for girls aged 11-12, though it can be given to children as young as nine and adults into their mid-twenties. Originally recommended only for girls, it is now recommended for boys as well. Unlike many other vaccines, Gardasil is not required for children to enter or remain in school in most states. That means the decision of whether to have the vaccine administered lies in parents' hands—and parents, because of the newness of the vaccine and the fact that it's optional—tend to rely heavily on the advice of their children's doctors.

Should Your Child Have the HPV Vaccine?

Parents are faced with conflicting information about the HPV vaccine. Many, if not most, doctors recommend it, as, of course, do the television, print, and internet ads. But there are troubling anecdotes, many of them, of debilitating symptoms from the Gardasil vaccine. These include seizures, chronic fatigue, other neurological symptoms, speech problems, paralysis and death. While the vast majority of children who receive the vaccine suffer no lasting ill effects, these stories are enough to give parents pause. Is the vaccine necessary? Do its benefits outweigh the risks?

Like all medicines and vaccines, Gardasil carries risks and benefits. It is up to the patient (or, if the patient is a child, like many Gardasil vaccine recipients their parent) to decide whether to consent to treatment. A doctor's recommendation may weigh heavily in that decision, but ultimately, the choice must be made by the patient and their family. If they lack reliable and complete information on which to base their decision, they may make a choice they would otherwise have avoided. This is the concept of informed consent.

Obtaining a patient or parent's consent to a treatment such as Gardasil is essential prior to administering the vaccine. However, if a doctor obtains consent without offering all the relevant information available, he or she may be guilty of medical malpractice. Informed consent includes not only potential side effects of the vaccine, but other relevant information, such as that the vaccine is not effective against all strains of HPV, and that certain strains of HPV may resolve on their own.

What to Do if Your Child Had Ill Effects from Gardasil

Most side effects from Gardasil and other HPV vaccines are mild and temporary. However, if your child has side effects about which you were not warned before consenting to treatment, especially if they are long-lasting, you may want to consider consulting with an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney to determine whether your child's doctor may have committed medical malpractice. Side effects may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Blood disorders, including excessive bleeding or unexplained bruising
  • Joint pain
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Lymphadenopathy
  • Chronic fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell
  • Chills
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Symptoms mimicking multiple sclerosis

A complimentary consultation with a medical malpractice attorney will help you determine if legal action is likely to result in compensation that can help pay for your child's care and treatment.

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