HPV vaccine debate

Written by Simon Crompton

Vaccination can be a worrying business, especially in children. Because a substance with potential side-effects is being injected into a child who is healthy, not ill, there are natural concerns that the injection will do more harm than good.

Newspaper scare stories don't help us get things into proportion, and the blanket reassurances of doctors don't always address our questions. With cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. vaccine, there's an extra dimension to the agonising: sex.

Vaccination can be a worrying business, especially in children. Because a substance with potential side effects is being injected into a child who is healthy, not ill, there are natural concerns that the injection will do more harm than good.

Newspaper scare stories don't help us get things into proportion, and the blanket reassurances of doctors don't always address our questions. With cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. vaccine, there's an extra dimension to the agonising: sex.

Only you, with your doctor, can make a decision that is best for your family, and you have to do so in the context of your own experience and cultureThe growth within a laboratory of microbes, organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye.

In some countries, girls as young as nine can receive the HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. vaccine and it is being routinely offered (via parents) to 12-year-olds, anticipating the day when sexual activity begins, and providing immunity when (and if) the HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. is transmitted to them.

For some parents, the prospect of a daughter having sexual partners might be difficult to accept. And for some institutions, religions and cultures, offering the vaccine raises ethical issues. By protecting against a sexually transmitted virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells., might use of the vaccine be encouraging sexual activity?

Controversy in print

In England, when the free voluntary vaccination of schoolgirls began there in 2008, a Roman Catholic school refused to allow pupils to be immunised on its premises, telling parents that the vaccine had not been proven safe or effective.

A priest and governor at the school said that it was such an important issue that parents should make their own decision in consultation with their family doctor.

He had earlier been reported as saying he objected to the injection because 'instead of taking it for granted that teenagers will engage in sexual activity, we can offer a vision of a full life, keeping yourself for a lifelong partnership in marriage.' Read more reported at timesonline.co.uk (link opens in a new window).

The story prompted heated debate because the issues surrounding HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. vaccination go beyond practical ones. But the press coverage is often emotive, and reassurance tends to come from those who have an interest in calming fears the debate, such as drug companies, or who, such as governments, have to focus on the benefits of immunisation in terms of populations, not individuals.

Only you, with your doctor, can make a decision that is best for your family, and you have to do so in the context of your own experience and cultureThe growth within a laboratory of microbes, organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye..

Finding your way round the debate

There is plenty of scientific evidence about the relative safety and risks of the HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. vaccine, and reviewing that will help you - see the practical help page, HPV vaccines explained. Below are the considerations that attract the most attention.

1. Serious side-effects

Doctors are right when they say the bottom line is that the vaccine would not have been licensed for use if it had not passed rigorous safety and efficacy standards. As with any medical intervention, that does not mean that the product is 100 per cent safe or effective, though. It shows that, across populations, its benefits in preventing serious illness and possibly death considerably outweigh any drawbacks.

For one or two individuals, this does not turn out to be the case, and research estimates that the most dangerous side-effect, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), does occur, albeit very rarely among the large numbers of people given the jab.

Newspaper reports have drawn attention to young women in America, Australia and Europe who had apparently collapsed or died following the jabs. Read such reports carefully: sometimes they are reporting on one-off cases where there is no evidence that it was actually the jab that caused the reaction.

2. Long-term effects

Most doctors are convinced that the evidence shows that the jab is safe. However, as with all new medications and treatments, there is a limit to what can be known about effects over the long term - simply because not enough time has gone by since it was invented.

Although it is known that the vaccine provides protection for about five years, there is not yet research showing how long benefits might extend beyond that.

It is to these areas that critics are often referring when they say that the jab has not been proven safe or effective. Currently, there is no indication that problems will emerge in the long-term.

3. The promiscuity debate

Discussion about cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is often clouded by the fact that the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to be infected with HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. (see Minimising risk/Prevention).

This means that there is an unnecessary stigma of promiscuity associated with infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. and cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. itself. It also means that having the HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. jab itself sometimes becomes associated, in people's minds, with the prospect of reckless sexual behaviour.

To get things in perspective, studies have shown that 80 per cent of American women have contracted at least one strain of HPVAn abbreviation for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted virus that can cause genital warts and may also have a role in the development of various cancers. by age 50. It is possible to contract the virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. if you have had sex with the same person all your life.

Related reports (links open in new windows):

'Canada cancer vaccination launched in controversy' (Reuters, Canada)

'Cancer vaccine kicks up controversy in India' (Thaindian News, Thailand)

'Cervarix: the simple injection causing so much controversy' (The Telegraph, UK)

'Debate rages over drug' (The New Zealand Herald)

'Examining the FDA's HPV Vaccine Records' (PDF at Judicial Watch, USA)

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