Australia: Overdue for health minister to take cue from Japanese counterpart on HPV vaccine perils
Sydney ~ Friday, 28 June 2013
Australia must also caution on GardasilBy Renate Klein and Helen Lobato
On June 14, the Japanese Health Ministry issued a nationwide notice that the so-called ‘cervical cancer’ vaccinations should not be recommended for girls aged 12 to 16. This precautionary move followed reports of 1,968 cases of possible adverse effects including body pain, numbness and paralysis.
The Japanese government’s subsidy program of either Gardasil or Cervarix, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccines, which are aimed at reducing cervical cancer, began in 2010 with an estimated 3.28 million girls having now received the vaccinations. A special task force examined 43 cases of widespread pain after HPV vaccinations and concluded that given the timing of symptoms they could not rule out a connection between the adverse events and HPV vaccines. Japanese girls can still receive the vaccination for free, but medical institutions must inform them that the Ministry does not recommend it.
In April 2007, Australia introduced the Gardasil vaccine to Australian girls aged 12-16 years. This was immediately followed by young women becoming ill with serious side effects. To date, Australia’s database of adverse event notifications (DAEN) has recorded over 1991 suspected side effects following the cervical cancer vaccination. In the U.S. the total number of adverse effects stands now at 30,000, with 138 deaths and 5977 girls and young women whose health never recovered. Due to the lack of mandatory reporting, only between 1 per cent and 10 per cent of adverse reactions are ever recorded, so unfortunately we are really looking at much higher figures.
The list of adverse effects following Gardasil is extensive with many of the side effects serious and long-lasting. They include seizures, anaphylaxis, paralysis, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), facial palsy, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, chronic fatigue syndrome, pancreatitis, short-term memory loss, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
In 2008 Krystal collapsed at her home in Wollongong and was taken to the emergency department where she was told that this passing out was nothing unusual for teenage girls. However, the 17 year-old teenager continued to collapse on a daily basis and when subsequent cardiac and neurological investigations failed to diagnose the problem, doctors decided that it might be a post viral disorder. When Krystal mentioned in passing that she had the three-shot Gardasil vaccination and the fact that this all started during the vaccinations, the doctor agreed that it was very likely Krystal had some sort of reaction to the vaccine. Her fainting, migraines, nausea, and poor circulation, irregular heart beat and general physical weakness continued over several months. Krystal had to leave school and her mother was forced to quit her job to care for her daughter who continued to regularly collapse. On one such occasion her mother had not seen or heard her collapse and by the time she found her, Krystal was unresponsive (for around 10 minutes) and had a very weak pulse.
Phillippa was a fit, healthy 26 year-old woman but shortly after her second Gardasil injection she experienced her first bout of pancreatitis. Around the same time, her mother heard an ABC radio report that the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) was investigating three cases of young girls experiencing pancreatitis after having their Gardasil injections. Phillippa checked the dates of her injections against the onset of her stomach pains and found that her second jab was nine days before the first attack and the third dose of Gardasil, 3 days before her third attack. She had never suffered from pancreatitis before and believes the link with the Gardasil injections is not a coincidence.
Gardasil is a vaccine that is said to protect against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), two of which are believed to be associated with the development of cervical cancer. There is no evidence of a causal link between HPV and cervical cancer. There may be an association, but the causal link has not been established. HPV is a very common virus, so much so that most of us have it at some time during our lives, but it usually clears the body in 8-14 months and does not go on to develop cancerous lesions. Before girls receive Gardasil, they are not tested to see if in fact they are infected with HPV – and with which strains (there are over 100 of them).
In Australia, around 700 women are diagnosed every year with cervical cancer and more than 200 women die of the disease annually. However, it is important to understand that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and curable of all cancers. Furthermore the incidence, prevalence and mortality rate from cervical cancer has fallen markedly in Australia since 1991 due to the great success of the National Cervical Screening Program. Most of the 200 women who still die are over 50 years of age and at the time of diagnosis have never had a Pap smear. Women who have received Gardasil still require two-yearly Pap screening starting at age 18 because the vaccine only provides protection against 4 strains of the HPV virus (16 and 18 which are thought to be associated with cervical cancer, and 6 and 11 which are associated with genital warts).
Whether the HPV vaccine will prevent even one case of cancer remains to be seen. Cervical cancer develops slowly so it will be 10 to 15 years or more before any real drop in cervical cancer infections will be visible. And even then we won’t know for sure that it is due to the HPV vaccine.
In other words the Gardasil vaccine is still unproven, but it does have the potential to injure, maim, or even kill the children and young adults who receive it. Unlike Japan, Australian health authorities have not taken any action to ensure the safety of its young girls. Starting in 2013, 12 and 13 year-old boys are also part of the subsidized vaccination program.
It’s not that the government doesn’t know about these problems: we have been writing about girls falling very ill after the three Gardasil injections ever since the vaccinations started in April 2007. Both the former and current Health Ministers, Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek, have received detailed information from injured girls and their parents. Malcolm Turnbull knows about it too.There is a National HPV Vaccination Registry that was set up for Gardasil (even if belated only in 2008, more than 11 months after the first vaccinations). Every girl and woman who received the vaccine should now be contacted, asked about their health and offered specialists’ services if necessary.
And in the meantime, any girl or boy receiving HPV vaccination at their school should be warned of potential serious adverse effects. It is time for the health minister to act as responsibly as her Japanese counterpart!
About the Authors
Dr Renate Klein, a biologist and social scientist, is a long-term health researcher and has written extensively on reproductive technologies and feminist theory. She is a former associate professor in Women's Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne, a founder of FINRRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering) and an Advisory Board Member of Hands Off Our Ovaries.
Helen Lobato is an independent health researcher and radio broadcaster with community radio 3cr and at present is a co-producer of Food fight, a weekly program around food security issues. Helen has a background in critical care nursing.