‘Unlikely’ cancer vaccine caused teenage girl’s death

GLAXOSMITHKLINE’S cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix probably did not cause the death of a British teenager shortly after she was given the drug, a health official said yesterday.

“I think it is unlikely that will be the case,” said Caron Grainger, joint director of public health in the area where the 14-year-old girl died, when asked about the possibility of any connection between the death and Cervarix.

News of the death came shortly before a possible decision by US health regulators on whether to approve Cervarix for sale in the US.

“I think once we get into the investigation... we may discover there is another cause of her death,” Grainger told the BBC.

“The message for parents at this moment in time and for young girls receiving this vaccine is that you should go ahead with the vaccination,” said Grainger, who works for the NHS in Coventry.

Police are treating the girl’s death as “unexplained” and said a postmortem was taking place yesterday.

The teenager, Natalie Morton, fell ill on Monday after being vaccinated at her school under a national immunisation programme against the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).

The Department of Health said there were no plans to halt the programme under which more than 1.4 million doses of Cervarix have been administered.

“The vaccine has a strong safety record so precautionary measures are focused on the batch,” it said in a statement.

Grainger said that only about 2,000 people had suffered any adverse reactions to the immunisation programme and that these were mostly minor. GlaxoSmithKline said it was working with regulators to understand the case better.

Sudden teenage deaths, in general, are not unknown. “Unfortunately, some young people do die suddenly for a variety of reasons, including cardiac causes. Sometimes they have been entirely well before their death,” said David Elliman of London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.

A small number of other girls at the Blue Coat Church of England School reported suffering from dizziness and nausea but were not admitted to hospital, health officials said.

The drug is given in three shots over six months.

The programme to vaccinate girls aged 12 to 13 began in 2008. Cervical cancer is the 12th most common women’s cancer in Britain, killing more than 1,000 women each year.

Should Cervarix gain US approval it would compete with Merck’s Gardasil, which has been on the US market since 2006 and had sales of $268 million (€184m) in the second quarter.

GlaxoSmithKline won support for its cervical cancer vaccine from an advisory panel to Japan’s Health Ministry yesterday, putting it on track to be the first company to offer such a vaccine in the world’s second-biggest drug market.


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