April 15, 1:33 PMVaccines ExaminerNorma Erickson
For centuries, Bhutan was the most isolated country in the world. Today this tiny country at the eastern end of the Himalayas stood up and said “NO” to HPV vaccines.
Late last year, Merck donated 9,600 doses of the HPV vaccine, called Gardasil to Bhutan. According to a memorandum of understanding, signed in August 2009 between the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF), Merck and Company which will supply the vaccine) and the Bhutan government, the vaccines were to be provided free of charge until 2014.
More than 3,000 girls in Paro received the first dose in October 2009. 2981 of these girls received the second dose in December. Public Health Officials said many of the girls were on winter holiday when the second dose was administered. The third and final dose is being given today.
DoPH director, Dr. Ugen Dophu said, “Paro was chosen because the number of vaccines we received was enough for girls in Paro.”
Bhutan, however, has been closely watching the controversy over the same vaccine in India. They became concerned about the reports brought forth by various health advocacy groups regarding the ‘demonstration projects’ and the abrupt halt of said ‘projects.’
Their response? Bhutan’s Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) wrote a letter to the Bhutan Department of Public Health (DoPH) ordering a halt to the launch of the HPV (human papillomaviris vaccine) campaign which was scheduled to go nationwide on May 5, 2010.
In response to this letter, the director of DoPH, Dr. Ugen Dophu, said that they would now have to prove the vaccine is not harmful before proceeding. A vaccine technical committee will discuss this soon.
The head of Bhutan’s Drug Regulatory Agency, Sinam Dorji, is keeping a close eye on the situation in India. Letters have been written to India’s government officials regarding their experiences with the HPV vaccines. They intend to scrutinize this vaccine and keep their information updated.
Bhutan’s officials have had only one report of an adverse reaction from the girls who were vaccinated. They do not intend to run the risk of having one more. They have turned down over $40 million worth of “free” vaccines until they are proven safe and effective.
Bhutan is one country that will “investigate before they vaccinate.”
For more information, see this report in the Kuensel Newspaper, Bhutan.