The families of six girls in England are suing GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the maker of Cervarix, after the girls suffered severe reactions resulting in partial paralysis, seizures and chronic fatigue. The Scotsman has learned two more have contacted the same solicitor after suffering severe painful swelling of joints.
Critics claim the information sent out to parents and medical professionals was vague and misleading. MSPs are calling for these concerns to be urgently addressed before more Scottish girls are vaccinated.
In the UK, there were 1,716 suspected reactions reported up to May 2009. The most severe included paralysis and sight problems – and campaigners say far more young women could have suffered but their reactions were attributed to a fear of the vaccine rather than the vaccine itself.
The HPV vaccination campaign started in Scotland in September and is targeting girls in the second, fifth and sixth years at secondary school. Those in third and fourth years will be offered the jab from September. Once this campaign is completed, the jab will be routinely offered to girls aged 12 to 13.
About 800,000 vaccines using Cervarix have been given in the UK.
But a public health expert in Germany said evidence for its effectiveness was “sparse”.
Dr Ansgar Gerhardus, of the University of Bielefeld, is part of a team of 13 experts who studied all publicly available data on the effectiveness of the vaccines.
He believes the public has been given the impression that the vaccine cures cervical cancer, when it actually protects against two strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is linked to cervical cancer.
Jackie Fletcher, of the vaccine support group Jabs, said there were concerns over the vaccine’s long-term effectiveness.
“It has been trialled for six and a half years – yet there are no known long-term effects,” she said. “We’re calling for the vaccine to be suspended. With cervical cancer, there are other things girls could do to be safe so this is a big public experiment.”
She said patients had been given inaccurate information. “We’ve seen health information leaflets. They’re generally reporting mild side-effects at the injection site. The worst one mentioned is an allergic reaction, but they say it’s very rare – yet the health regulatory body has been notified of serious side-effects by parents whose daughters have had Cervarix. These are long-term problems and we have no idea if the girls will fully recover.”
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said: “There does seem to be a very high percentage of girls who experience some sort of adverse reaction. Since there are documented cases of paralysis – long-term or not – I think that would merit a further investigation.”