Cervical cancer kills women. Lots of women. In the 1940s, it was amongst the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the US. Yet since the invention of the Pap Smear and its use as a screening tool, the incidence and mortality from cervical cancer dropped precipitously (see graph on right). Unfortunately, over 4000 women in the US still die from cervical cancer each year - either because of they lack access to routine screening or because of an aggressive cancer.
Meanwhile, as per the graph, rates around the world are still way too high. Public health authorities estimate that 275,000 women worldwide still die each year from cervical cancer, many in developing countries. There are lots of efforts to reduce this.
The Gates Foundation did a landmark study of over 100,000 women in rural India using different modalities of screening (Pap smears, cytology, and vinegar - a common tool in the developing world) - with then appropriate treatment for at-risk lesions.
Others have pushed vaccines, including Gardasil and Cervarix. Since the 1980s, when we found that young women with a high number of sexual partners had a higher risk of cervical cancer (the same goes for young men with anal-receptive intercourse), we postulated that a sexually transmitted organism might be the proximate cause. We've subsequently identified a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) - specifically HPV-16 and HPV-18 - that cause about 70% of cervical cancers. These viruses can be transmitted sexually. So voila! - we've found a cause of cervical cancer.
And after painstaking work, we found vaccines that work against these viruses (Gardasil and Cervarix). They reduce the incidence of pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions in women not previously exposed to HPV-16 and HPV-18. Yes - they have some side effects. And these need to be carefully watched. But, no - there's no real evidence that they cause death. In a study between 2006-2008 32 women died after they received a anti-HPV vaccine. But let's not so quickly confuse 'correlation' with 'causation'. On autopsy, these unfortunate women were found to have died of another cause - "diabetes, viral illness, illicit drug use, and heart failure."
This 'correlation/causation' mistake would be like me banging my head against a brick wall after reading some anti-vaccine article which totally misquotes a researcher and then uess false statistics to promote clearly ideologic message - and then blaming my brain bleed on that article's author. Wait - actually this causation is far closer than that attributed to vaccines!
Anyway - the point is that cervical cancer kills. Pap smears have shown to save women from this terrible cancer. And now, we have another arsenal with new vaccines against the most common cause of cervical cancer. So yes, we need further data, like we do with every new drug/vaccine. And the price of these vaccines should be much lower. And women still need to get Pap smears.
But the message that vaccines like Gardasil kill and are some conspiracy against the population itself is a dangerous one. Ask anyone who recently suffered from the resurgence of Whooping Cough in the US. Or died from Measles in Africa. Or now suffers from Polio in Syria - where the two year civil war has precluded large number of children from getting appropriately vaccinated!