Health minister defends HPV vaccine accused of causing “adverse reactions”
A Conservative MP has raised concerns about the vaccination programme for the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine Cervarix.
The HPV vaccine is being offered to all 12 to 13 year old girls, and to all youing women aged between 17 and 18 years old, to protect them against cervical cancer.
Crispin Blunt said it appears to be causing adverse reactions in a number of girls.
He questioned why “nearly every other western country in choosing the rival vaccine, Gardasil, which protects against a greater variety of pre-cancerous lesions than Cervarix, and genital warts as well” and asked whether schools are an appropriate place for vaccination to take place.
“The Government’s current understanding—given to me yesterday by the Minister, I am quite sure in good faith—is flat wrong,” he said during yesterday’s adjournment debate.
“It is my assessment that the public have not been provided with clear and accurate information about the risks associated with the Cervarix vaccine,” he said.
“GlaxoSmithKline’s product information gives a full list of undesirable effects that the vaccine might cause.
“Among those listed are serious conditions such as myalgia—listed as being very common—arthralgia and paraesthesia.
“Legal representatives of Cervarix victims point out that in many of the cases in which they are representing them, paraesthesia is so severe that the effect should be more accurately described as partial paralysis.
“I am concerned about the Government’s blanket promotion of this vaccine as a silver bullet against cervical cancer.
“Reservations have also been expressed by some medical professionals about the thoroughness of the clinical trials, which they have claimed were too short and did not include enough girls under the age of 16, who have been the first age group to receive this vaccine as part of the Government’s national programme.”
HPV is most commonly spread through sexual contact.
Mr Blunt claimed: “while I am aware that a proportion of girls are sexually active from a very young age, many are not, and some parents may feel that it is unnecessary for girls to receive this vaccine so early in their teens when they are still growing quickly and experiencing rapid hormonal change.”
The Minister of State, Department of Health, Dawn Primarolo, responded for the government.
“I shall start by sounding a caution,” she said.
“When we debate sensitive issues such as this, it is important to deal with the science, not the supposition, and with the evidence, not the hearsay or opinion.
“We should not be swayed by the lurid way in which HPV and its vaccine are sometimes portrayed in the media.
“We have played this game before with the MMR scare and many areas are now paying the price in an explosion in measles and mumps cases because not enough families have taken up the vaccine.
“I want to take this opportunity to address head on the suggestions that the HPV vaccine is not safe.”
Ms Primarolo said Cervarix was “rigorously tested” in large-scale clinical trials, involving thousands of girls and young women.
“Since then, several million doses of vaccine have been given around the world—including the best part of 1 million in the UK, as the hon. Gentleman said—with no new risks emerging.
“There are, of course, side-effects associated with Cervarix, as there are with all vaccines, but it is important to stress that most people do not experience any side-effects whatsoever.
“The most common known effects from Cervarix are injection site reactions, dizziness, headache, muscle pain, nausea and upset stomach.
“They are normally mild and last for no more than a few days. I accept that those reactions can be unpleasant, but they are nothing compared with the symptoms of advanced cervical cancer and are a price worth paying, in my view, to save 400 lives a year.”
Ms Primarolo said “at least half” of all sexually active women will be infected by a strain of HPV in their lifetime.
“We know that the viruses are responsible for causing more than 99 per cent. of cervical cancer cases, and a range of other cancers,” she said.
“There are nearly 3,000 cases of cervical cancer each year, a third of which will prove fatal within five years, and we know that the HPV vaccine is effective in protecting young women against two HPV strains that are responsible for around 70 per cent. of those cancer cases.
“As a result, the vaccine could eventually prevent up to 400 deaths due to cervical cancer every year.
“So the facts tell us that the Cervarix vaccine is a major breakthrough in public health, and the first vaccine that can directly prevent cancer.
“It would be a travesty if women were denied the potential that it offers because of scaremongering and supposition.
“The weight of evidence says that the vaccine is safe, effective and capable of saving thousands of lives in the years ahead.”
Entry filed under: Commons. Tags: Adjournment debate, arthralgia, Cervarix, Crispin Blunt, Dawn Primarolo, Department of Health, Gardasil, GlaxoSmithKline, HPV, measles, MMR, mumps, myalgia, paraesthesia, vaccines.