Concerns over safety of cervical cancer vaccine after 1,300 girls experience adverse side-effects

The Daily Mail | March 9, 2009

More than 1,300 schoolgirls have experienced adverse reactions to the controversial cervical cancer jab.

Doctors have reported that girls aged just 12 and 13 have suffered paralysis, convulsions and sight problems after being given the vaccine.

Dozens were described as having pain 'in extremity' while others suffered from nausea, muscle weakness, fever, dizziness and numbness.

The vaccine is being given to girls under a Government programme to prevent women from developing cervical cancer. Ministers say it will ultimately save 700 lives a year.

Some have dubbed it the 'promiscuity jab' because it is given to girls to protect against the sexually-transmitted HPV virus which causes 70 per cent of cervical tumours.

Last night campaigners called for the vaccination campaign to be suspended in the light of the published side-effects.

But Government health experts insisted the Cervarix vaccine was safe and that the total of 1,340 reports was to be expected, given that more than 700,000 girls were vaccinated last year.

They also said many of the reactions resulted from the act of injection rather than the vaccine, and said there was no evidence that the jab caused any of the serious conditions such as paralysis.

Cancer charities urged parents to continue allowing their daughters to have the jabs, saying any risks were so minor and unproven that they could not outweigh the benefit of possibly saving lives.

The vaccination programme of young secondary school girls began in September last year following clinical trials on more than 18,000 women under the age of 26. Critics have claimed that not enough pre-pubescent girls were involved.

The vaccine, which is administered in three doses, is also being given to girls aged 17 and 18. This will ensure that by 2011, all those under the age of 18 will have been vaccinated. 

Reports of adverse reactions to drugs and vaccines are collated by the drug safety watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), from reports by doctors.

Their latest analysis found there had been 1,340 reports in total, with 2,891 different adverse effects noted. Most were minor complaints such as rashes, swelling on the injection site, pain or allergic reactions.

But there was a range of more worrying problems. Four girls had convulsions, one had a seizure and one had an epileptic fit.

There were several cases of paralysis. One had Bell's palsy, which paralyses the face; one had hemiparesis, which paralyses or severely weakens half the body; two experienced hypoaesthesia, in which the sufferer loses much of her sense of touch, and one had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which paralyses the legs.

There were almost 20 cases of blurred vision and one girl was reported as developing anorexia.

Last night Jackie Fletcher of the vaccine support group Jabs said: 'When they introduced this new vaccine, we had major concerns about its safety. The current statistics detailing adverse reactions - including cases of epilepsy and convulsions - bears out that we were right to be concerned.

'The Government needs to look at the future of this programme given the number of side-effects coming through.'

The MHRA says the number of reported reactions does not necessarily mean they are side effects of the vaccine.

In its report on the most recent figures, released on Thursday, the MHRA said: 'The vast majority of suspected adverse reactions reported to MHRA in association with Cervarix vaccine have related to either the signs and symptoms of recognised side-effects listed in the product information or were due to the injection process and not the vaccine itself.

'For the isolated cases of other conditions reported, the available evidence does not suggest that the vaccine caused the condition and these may have been coincidental events. The balance of risks and benefits of Cervarix remains positive.'

Robert Music, director of cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust, said: 'I urge every mother to ensure their girls have the vaccine, because we believe the obvious benefits outweigh the risks. Quite simply, the jab could save their daughters' lives.'