Media fans flames of HPV vaccine fears
Health authorities are urging calm after doctors criticised a vaccine that protects against cervical cancer.
Concerns have been raised about rare, but potentially severe, side effects that have led doctors to recommend stopping HPV injections on hold until they are better understood.
“I don’t want to give it,” northern Zealand GP Claus Werner Jensen told DR Nyheder. “The considerations currently weigh more heavily than the benefits.”
Sundhedssytrelsen, the national board of health, argued the vaccine is safe and that it is the most effective tool to treat cervical cancer, which kills a third of the 400 women who contract it every year.
“Our hope is that with the vaccine and screening we can end up eradicating this terrible illness,” Sundhedssytrelsen spokesperson Søren Brostrøm told Politiken newspaper.
The HPV vaccine – which is marketed as Gardasil – is offered to all 12-year-old girls and so far around 350,000 vaccinations have been administered.
The vaccine protects against several strains of the HPV vaccine that are responsible for 70 percent of case of cervical cancer and similarly high rates of anal and vaginal cancer.
The vaccine can cause side-effects, however, with about ten percent of cases experiencing swelling and head aches.
There are more severe reactions with about one recipient in ten thousand experiencing breathing difficulties, while around one in one million have been known to suffer severe allergic reactions that can result in the loss of consciousness.
According to the health agency Sundhedssytrelsen, there have been 786 reports of side-effects up until August 26, of which 129 were considered serious. In July two girls aged 12 and 14 were granted compensation worth several million kroner due to severe side-effects from the vaccine, according to DR Nyheder.
The problem is that it is difficult to tell whether health problems contracted after the vaccine are actually caused by the vaccine.
Sundhedssytrelsen argued that the wide range of side effects reported indicate that most would not be caused by the vaccine, as there is no apparent pattern.
A Sundhedssytrelsen study of one million women, of which a third were vaccinated, showed that vaccinated women were no more likely to suffer illnesses that could be a side effect from the vaccine, than those who were not vaccinated.
These findings are supported by a 2011 study of over 600,000 vaccination recpients and published in the medical journal Vaccine, which found that there was no statistically significant increased risk of side-effects.
Organisations such as Vaccinationsforum remain unconvinced and argue that the 129 potential cases of serious side effects could be the tip of the iceberg.
“The extent [of side effects] is so great that the authorities need to do something,” spokesperson Else Jensen told Politiken newspaper. “Underreporting [of side effects] is a known phenomenon.”
But Mads Damkjær, head of marketing for Gardasil manufacturer Sanofil Pastuer MSD, argued that the company’s product was not dangerous.
“If you look at the background population of vaccinated and non-vaccinated girls, these types of illnesses occur just as often,” Damkjær told Politiken. “We need to remain calm, regardless of how unpleasant it may feel. Just because the events coincide, it doesn’t mean they are connected.”