However, I have hesitated in joining the protest on the HPV/Gardasil vaccine, although I recognise it is motivated by the best of intentions.
Maybe having witnessed my healthy four-month-old become severely disabled when innoculated with a vaccine makes me more cautious.
On the one hand I can appreciate the value of immunisation; on the other, I understand its risks. When assessing any vaccine policy, I look at the benefit and the risk.
I also examine any programme’s provisions for minimising risk, for example, screening out those people who have a greater chance of having an adverse reaction.
In 2007, as a woman MEP, a member of the committee responsible for public health and as a member of MAC (MEPs Against Cancer), I was invited to several drug company-sponsored events, promoting Gardasil that looked for our support for mandatory public vaccination of their product. I went to one such event, heard what they had to say and then did my own investigation. What I learned about the vaccination made me very concerned that Gardasil is too new to make its health claims and that it poses significant risks.
This now seems to be borne out by the almost 10,000 adverse reactions, 6% of which are considered serious, including 27 deaths of girls and young women reported to VAERS in two years of use since 2006. VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) is an official agency of the US Centre for Disease Control. Only a few American states have mandated Gardasil for general use.
On cost, it seems the single most effective strategy for saving women’s lives from all forms of cervical cancer is Pap smear screening.
Some states have considered that putting money into making these tests convenient and free so that women, especially those in certain age groups, will be screened regularly is a better use of finite funds in terms of saving women’s lives.
In relation to Gardasil, some have chosen a targeted approach. As HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, they advised that health services recommend/offer the vaccine to people who are or will be at higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases
I have advocated for better cancer services like breast cancer screening, radiotherapy and palliative care, but I think a health programme of injecting all girls and young women with an as yet risky vaccine should be subjected to further investigation.
For this reason, I have made a formal request to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for a full scientific opinion on the HPV vaccine which I will forward to Health Minister Mary Harney and anyone else who contacts me when I receive it.
Kathy Sinnott MEP