By REBECCA PALMER The Dominion Post
May 4, 2009
Dozens of schools have opted out of a mass immunisation programme to protect girls against cervical cancer.
Girls as young as 12 started receiving the vaccinations at schools in February. Fifty adverse reactions have been reported so far this year, with 10 reports of fainting and one case of an allergic reaction.
The previous government said the death rate from cervical cancer would be halved in future decades by the $177 million programme over five years to provide free immunisation.
Each year there are 180 diagnoses of cervical cancer and about 60 women die from it.
Greg Simmons, the Health Ministry’s chief adviser for population health, confirmed 78 schools had declined to take part in the programme about 5 per cent of those eligible. The number could include schools that chose not to take part for logistical reasons, such as small rural schools, he said.
The figures exclude Canterbury, which does not have a school-based network. Instead, girls can be vaccinated through their doctors.
The programme has been controversial, with moral campaigners objecting to vaccinating girls against a cancer they can get only through sexual activity. Others have expressed concern about adverse reactions.
Women’s Health Action has said the programme was introduced too fast and called for an urgent review.
The privacy commissioner has also been investigating complaints about schools handing over school roll data to district health boards.
Secondary Principals Association president Peter Gall said some religious schools would be among those that had opted out of the programme. In others, the board of trustees might have decided there was not enough information or a lack of good information about the vaccine, he said.
School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said some of the concerns schools had might be about access to school records.
A Hutt Valley District Health Board paper notes that two schools in the Wellington region have refused to take part in the programme, and that consent rates vary by school.
“Some decline rates are relatively high, especially for year 8 children and at low-decile schools.
“Common reasons cited for declining the vaccination are around the age and the sexual naivete of the girl and the duration of the protection.”
Dr Simmons said 1399 schools had been involved in the programme in the first term. The National Immunisation Register showed at least 52,887 doses of the Gardasil vaccine had been administered. Not all district health boards had submitted information to the register, so the actual uptake would be higher.
Girls who could not receive the vaccine through their schools could get it from their family doctor.
The ministry did not know the national decline rates among girls. That information was held by individual district health boards.
Girls under 16 have to return a consent form signed by parents or guardians before getting the vaccine at school. Those 16 and over can give their own consent.
Dr Simmons said 80 adverse reactions had been reported since the vaccine was first licensed in New Zealand. Most were minor, such as pain at the injection site, nausea and a raised temperature. There had been one report of “mild anaphylaxis [allergic reaction] with rapid recovery” and 10 reports of fainting.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said her office had been working with the Health Ministry and the School Trustees Association to check complaints about personal information in rolls being given out.
“We will be hoping to find out what went wrong the first time around, and how the programme could be managed better in future.”
Comment from Leslie
The Women’s Health Action is correct – the worldwide immunization programs for Gardasil have been enacted too fast – and now we have multitudes of adverse reactions. The truth about the HPV vaccine is being spread through groups, chat rooms, blogs, and the media. The voice of the people is getting stronger and stronger.