Fears about the vaccine prove to be false alarm
Human Papilloma Virus21 April, 2010 – The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, known to protect girls from cervical cancer, will be launched nationwide for girls between 12 to 18 years, as scheduled on May 5, but on voluntary consent of the parents or guardians, the health ministry announced yesterday at a press conference. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among Bhutanese women.
For the mass immunisation, the health ministry has received 193,022 doses of the Netherlands manufactured Gardasil from Merck and company, with support from the Australian cervical cancer foundation (ACCF).
Based on the recommendation by technical experts and after confirming the suspension of vaccination in India was not related to safety issues, the health ministry decided to go ahead with the mass immunisation program as planned.
“Reviewing all available reports on the suspension of the HPV vaccine trial in India, the expert group concluded that the four deaths in India were not related to the vaccine,” the press release states. “Two of the deaths were suicides, one drowned after an accidental fall into a well and one died from an undiagnosed febrile illness.”
It stated that, based on the suspension of HPV vaccination trial in the two Indian states by the Indian council of medical research, the drug regulatory authority (DRA) had written “expressing concerns” to the health ministry over the proposed introduction of the HPV vaccine in Bhutan.
Health officials said that, from next year, only 12-year old girls would receive the vaccine. “We discussed with DRA on April 19 and found that it’s more beneficial to give the vaccines, but it won’t be mandatory,” health secretary Dasho (Dr) Gado Tshering said.
The secretary said the vaccination was suspended in India for ethical reasons, and that it was done in an area where the social economic status of the population and literacy rate was very low. “The information they had given was also wrong because they’d said that it would prevent cervical cancer for life and that it was mandatory,” said Dasho (Dr) Gado Tshering.
Chief programme officer for communicable diseases, department of public health, Tandin Dorji, said that the vaccine would protect girls from cervical cancer for six to seven years. “Data shows that those, who have been vaccinated then, are still being protected. But we can’t predict if it can protect for 20 years,” he said. “It’s sexually transmitted and, if you have the vaccine, it will delay or prevent for a longer period. The pap smear screening comes in after that.” He also said that the benefits of the vaccine are not immediate.