18th May 2009, Devonlive.com

Cervical cancer vaccine is ‘safe’

A jab to help prevent cervical cancer that is the subject of a legal challenge by a Devon youngster is safe, ministers have insisted.

Sounding a warning at Westminster, Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said it was important to deal “with the science, not the supposition, and with the evidence, not the hearsay or opinion”. She referred to the previous MMR vaccine scare, which had led to an “explosion” in measles and mumps cases because injections were not taken up.

The vaccination programme, which began last September, is being carried out to protect women against the most common strains of the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), that cause 70 per cent of all cervical cancers. It is hoped that vaccinating most teenage girls could in the future save hundreds of lives a year.

However, the vaccine has proved controversial.  A Honiton schoolgirl is among a group of teenagers taking legal action against the makers of the jab, claiming it caused side-effects such as paralysis and breathing problems. With the help of her parents, Hattie Vickery, 13, is suing the vaccine’s manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline for damages under the Consumer Protection Act.

It is claimed by the family that the vaccine has turned Hattie from a normal teenager into an “invalid” plagued with paralysis, breathing problems and sickness. But Mrs Primarolo told MPs during a parliamentary debate she wanted to tackle suggestions that the HPV vaccine was not safe.

She said: “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.

“There is a clear need to keep a watching brief, and we are continually monitoring safety so that we can quickly identify any new side-effects that might emerge.

“As we vaccinated such a large cohort of young people, it was inevitable that a few cases would come forward where other conditions were reported as suspected side-effects even if the vaccine played no part.”

She said that it would be a “travesty” if women were denied the potential that the vaccine offered because of scaremongering and supposition.

She said: “The weight of evidence says that the vaccine is safe, effective and capable of saving thousands of lives in the years ahead.”

For more information if you, or your daughter, have experienced new health problems after HPV vaccination:  http://timeforaction.org.uk/has-your-family-been-affected/