Some medical experts in India feel there is no cause for alarm over cervical cancer vaccination. Others have questions, says Hemchhaya De
Monday May 10, 2010
The deaths of four young girls in Andhra Pradesh have stirred up a debate on a vaccine for a cancer that kills more than 74,000 women every year in India. The question being asked is: are these shots safe?
Four girls, aged between 10 and 14, died recently after they were administered the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine — being marketed aggressively in India to prevent cervical cancer among women — in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. They were among 14,000 girls in the state who were administered HPV vaccines during a “demonstration project” carried out by the health department of the state government in association with a US-based NGO called Path Internat- ional.
Doctors across the country have been urging parents to get their young daughters — even eight-year-olds — vaccinated against the cancer. Global guidelines state that HPV vaccines need to be administered to a girl before she becomes sexually active. The vaccines are designed to protect against some strains of HPV that account for at least 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases around the world.
The importance of the vaccines is being highlighted in anti-cervical cancer camps in the country. Apart from Andhra Pradesh, a “demonstration project” was also being carried out in Gujarat. Cervarix and Gardasil — the only two HPV vaccines available in the world market — were reportedly donated free of cost by their respective manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline and Merck Sharp Dohme for the Gujarat and Andhra projects. Around 23,500 girls have so far been vaccinated in the two states.