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Picture 2 Crispin
Blunt is MP for Reigate and a shadow home affairs minister. Here he
expresses dissatisfaction with the reaction of the public health
minister to the points he made in a recent debate about the Cervarix
vaccine against cervical cancer.

Since last autumn the
Government has been rolling out a nationwide vaccination programme for
teenage girls against two strains of the Human Papilloma Virus thought
to cause about 70% of cervical cancers. 

The vaccine they have
chosen is called Cervarix and it is administered in three injections,
currently to girls between the ages of 12 and 13, but soon all girls
under the age of 18 will be included in the programme.

Cervical
cancer has been given a new prominence in the public health agenda
following the recent death of reality TV star Jade Goody, and it is
only right that parents want to take the necessary steps to protect
their daughters from the horrors of this illness.

However there are important questions about the Cervarix vaccine of which parents have the right to be made aware.

First, there have been a number of severe suspected adverse
reactions, including seizures and partial paralysis; a number of girls
who were formerly fit and healthy became ill with similar severe
symptoms shortly after being inoculated. Secondly, the information
provided to parents and doctors by the NHS does not include a
sufficient discussion of its possible recognised side effects, as
published by its manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline. Nor does it discuss
alternative methods of protection against HPV and cervical cancer that
some families may feel are more suitable for girls in their early
teens. 

The debate surrounding Cervarix highlights wider issues
about vaccination in the UK such as the lack of a robust compensation
scheme or a mandatory warning system to which suspected adverse
reactions can be reported. The suitability of school as an environment
in which to vaccinate children is also called into question.

I
raised these matters with Health Minister Dawn Primarolo MP in a recent
adjournment debate following the experience of a girl in my
constituency who began to suffer from severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
and debilitating muscle and joint pain shortly after beginning the
course of injections. 

The Minister spent much of her time
mentioning things I didn’t actually say. The majority of her speech was
devoted to explaining why she thought the vaccine was safe and
appropriate for use. This is the one point I didn’t actually raise,
since I maintained throughout that I was not questioning the safety of
Cervarix for the public in general. 

She dismissed any
connection between the vaccine and the condition of girls such as my
constituent, claiming that this was based merely on opinion and
conjecture, far removed from the "cold hard facts of scienc" on which
the medical practitioners advising the Department of Health based their
conclusions.

The Minister has clearly never taken a course in
epistemology. If she had, she would realise that science is as much
based on opinion and supposition as any academic field and as rife with
division as any other.  One such division is over the efficacy of
Cervarix and the adequacy of its clinical trials as a growing number of
doctors and scientists join its list of critics, one of the latest
being Germany’s Robert Koch Institute.

There is also recognition
amongst professionals involved in vaccination that any vaccine carries
an inherent risk of adverse reaction which, more than likely, will
manifest in a few people as the programme is rolled out.  This doesn’t
make it unsafe for society at large but it does mean that all possible
reactions to the vaccine will not have been exhausted in its clinical
trials. It is sheer arrogance to maintain that everything is known
about this vaccine and that medical opinion is completely united on it.

Furthermore,
if doctors suppose the vaccine to be free from serious side effects
based on what they are told by the NHS and the Department of Health,
then they are unlikely to link symptoms suffered by those such as my
constituent to being caused by the vaccine even though her symptoms
correspond to the side effects given by its manufacturer. As soon as
they are aware of it, such as my constituent’s consultant or doctors at
her family GP's surgery, they make the connection. 

The answers
to my general questions about vaccination were no better. The Minister
refuted my claim that the UK’s yellow card warning system (which
receives reports of suspected reactions to vaccines) was "one of the
weakest in Europe" on the basis that through it the Medicines and
Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority publishes online reports of
suspected side effects every week. This fails to address the key points
of why it is a weak system: that reporting to it is not mandatory for
professionals and that it is largely unknown to the public

My
other points about a proper compensation scheme for the unfortunate few
who do suffer adverse reactions and the best environment for children
to be vaccinated in seemed to pass the Minister by as she launched into
an effusive endorsement of the benefits of Cervarix and the number of
lives it will save.  This not only missed the points I was making by a
mile but also denied us the chance to start a debate about these, very
important, aspects of national vaccination programmes.

Instead she harped on about "evidence" and "science" one minute and
gushingly sentimental about the unproven wonders of Cervarix the next.
Quite clearly whoever wrote it miscalculated what I was going to say
and she had no answers to many of the important points raised. Either
that, or she has managed to indoctrinate herself with her own
propaganda and is now ignoring these important issues affecting the
health of young girls across the UK: a fitting testimony to the
attitudes of this Government.

8 comments for: Crispin Blunt MP: How the public health minister failed to address my concerns about the vaccine against cervical cancer

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