UPDATE: For those who are finding this post through HPV-related Internet searches – there is a great visualization of how safe Gardasil (the HPV US brand) is to use. Check out here: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/how-safe-is-the-hpv-vaccine/
I had my first HPV vaccine shot two weeks ago. The vaccine prevents you from getting some strains of the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. I took the UK brand Cervarix, which is P3,000 per shot at Asian Hospital.
While I’m not a fan of needles, I tolerate them pretty well, and all this year I’ve been having shots (for Hepa B and flu) so I wasn’t scared of it. When I asked my doctor about the HPV vaccine, she said there would be no complications or side effects, and it would hurt only as much as any regular shot.
A regular shot (let’s say a flu shot) hurts for a few seconds, and then the day after there’s a small bruise where the needle went in. It’s no big deal – in fact, I usually forget that I had a shot and wonder why my arm was slightly sore.
The HPV shot fucking hurts. I had my HPV shot at 4pm on a Thursday. At 7pm, I could no longer move my right arm – the pain was intense, and all over my arm, enough for me to beg off work that night because I couldn’t type. I woke up the next day only to find that the pain had gotten worse. I couldn’t move my right arm without wincing. It hurt for four days. At the worst points, a wrong move could lead me to tears. My right arm also LOOKED bruised – there was a big splotch of darkness on my upper arm, like I had been beaten up. And really, that’s what it felt like. I’m no wuss, so believe me when I say that if it hurts enough to make me miserable, it really does fucking hurt.
At first I was worried – what on earth had I done to myself? But when I looked it up on the Web, I found that many women around the world had the same complaint. One woman whose pain tolerance was really high (she had tattoos on her chest) actually screamed in pain when the shot went in. Another brand of vaccine, Gardasil, causes fainting in young girls right after the shot. And a lot of us had the same debilitating pain that prevented us from working, driving, or doing anything else. I found out later that my friend’s aunt couldn’t shower or change clothes properly for two days because of the pain. Wikipedia mentions that the pain from Cervarix usually lasts 3.3 days on average.
If I had known this ahead of time, I’d have planned for it – I’d take the vaccine on a weekend or just before, so I could just stay home and rest. Next time, I plan to do just that, and will also have it done on my left arm instead of my right. I’ve got two shots to go, but at least I’m prepared now. What bothers me is that so few women in the Philippines have taken the HPV vaccine, so this pain isn’t common knowledge. (Aside from my friend’s aunt, I know nobody else who has taken this shot – probably because of the cost.)
Don’t get me wrong, I still recommend the HPV vaccine to all women (26 years old and below). A few days of pain wins over a lifetime of cancer. But I’m warning you – it hurts. Big time. (If it doesn’t hurt for you, well, lucky you.)
PS I’d have taken a pic of my bruised arm, except I didn’t want it to become one of those gross medical photos on Wikipedia.