By Elizabeth Hart
The Gardasil HPV vaccine was originally rejected by the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) in 2006, when the Howard Liberal Government was in power.
An article by Matthew Stevens in The Australian at the time (November 2006),(1) reports the PBAC rejected Gardasil because it was:
“too expensive and, just maybe, not what it was cracked up to be anyway”. Apparently, Tony Abbott, then the Australian Federal Health Minister, “took to the airwaves, passing on PBAC’s concerns about the efficacy of Gardasil and even floating the bizarre idea that a misplaced confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine might actually result in ’an increase in cancer rates’.”
According to Matthew Stevens’ very interesting report in The Australian, it took just 24 hours for the then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, to “put an end to the nonsense,” delivering “sparkling prime ministerial endorsement to Gardasil along with a clear direction to Minister Abbott that the immunisation program should proceed. And pronto.”
So is this how important decisions on vaccination practice are made? On the whim of a Prime Minister in pre-electioneering mode? John Howard’s wife is reported to have had cervical cancer.(2) Did this personal experience affect Howard’s decision? Was this appropriate considering the complexity of the issue in regards to low risk of cancer, cervical cancer screening etc?
What sort of lobbying took place to overturn the PBAC’s original decision to reject Gardasil?
The decision to add HPV vaccination to the Australian vaccination program for both girls and boys is impacting millions of children around the world.
Getting a vaccine on the national schedule must be the ‘golden goose’ for vaccine manufacturers as this assures a mass market for their vaccine product. It also helps create a ‘domino’ effect as other countries follow suit and adopt the vaccine, creating a mass global market.
No wonder Ian Frazer, co-inventor of the technology enabling the HPV vaccines, was willing to forego royalties from developing countries(3) – how much profit will he reap from sales of the vaccine to governments in developed countries?
The case for universal HPV vaccination is unconvincing, and the motives for its promotion are suspect. It’s time there was an investigation into the aggressive marketing of the HPV vaccine.
This article published in the Fairfax media in February 2010 is relevant: The other drug war – the politics of big business – Big Pharma spends millions every year buying influence in Canberra. Adele Ferguson and Eric Johnston investigate the ruthless tactics, the money and the spindoctors behind the scenes.
Getting a government subsidy for a drug through a listing on the PBS is the Holy Grail for pharmaceutical companies. Companies spend an average $1.2 billion getting a product to market and so the more pills they sell the better the return. (emphasis added)
And then there’s the ‘education’ of doctors:
If doctors are “educated” to prescribe the drug to patients and pharmacy chains stock the pill, then sales go up and up.
While doctors and health groups receive millions of dollars a year from pharmaceutical companies in grants and sponsorships, the industry spends far more on political donations in an attempt to influence health policy and get drugs on the PBS.
Australia’s PBS system is world-renowned for giving consumers access to the cheapest drugs for serious illness. But the system which costs $7.7 billion annually and the process by which drugs are listed have become increasingly vulnerable to commercial and political pressures.
While the PBS scheme is overseen by an independent gatekeeper, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, strong lobbying efforts by the global giant GlaxoSmithKline and the homegrown drug manufacturer CSL, particularly during the later years of the Howard government, have been successful in securing listings of drugs on the PBS which had been initially rejected. This followed in the case of CSL’s anti-cervical cancer drug, Gardasil. GSK’s version of the drug was approved for a government-backed vaccination program in 2008.
An investigation by Weekend Business has revealed that the health industry, which spans everything from pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, pharmacy chains, general practitioners and health insurance companies, spends millions of dollars a year buying political access and influence, through lobbying, hiring former government staffers both internally and externally, issuing ads and making grassroots campaign contributions.
More than any other industry, drug companies take advantage of the revolving door between politics and other branches of the federal government and the industry. A search of where former political staffers go revealed a disproportionate number move to the lucrative health sector.
Jerrold Cripps, QC, who recently ended his five-year term at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, made a parting shot that political donations and lobbying by former MPs and ministers ”are activities that are unmistakably conducive to corrupt conduct.” (emphasis added)
I’m not convinced that universal HPV vaccination can be justified, and I’m concerned about the possibility of ‘unintended consequences’ with the use of this vaccine.
For example, in an article in NewScientist in September 2011, Charlotte Haug raises questions about HPV vaccination, including:
“…another serious question that may be answered sooner: what effect will the vaccine have on the other cancer-causing strains of HPV? Nature never leaves a void, so if HPV-16 and HPV-18 are suppressed by an effective vaccine, other strains of the virus will take their place. The question is, will these strains cause cervical cancer?”(1)
I’m particularly interested in this possibility in light of reports that, “the emerging strain of the Bordetella pertussis bacterium may be evading the effects of the widely-prescribed acellular vaccine (ACV) and increasing the incidence of the potentially fatal respiratory illness…”.(2)
With the pertussis bacterium experience, are there any implications here for the HPV vaccines?
It’s also interesting to consider this possibility in relation to other vaccines, e.g. the measles vaccine. As I understand it vaccination with one dose of an efficacious ‘live’ measles vaccine is generally effective in the absence of maternally derived antibodies, and immunity is likely to be lifelong, so, based on current knowledge, this seems to be a useful vaccine. (Serological testing can be used to verify a response to the ‘live’ measles vaccine, see my webpage on the questionable MMR ‘booster’ for further background.)
But HPV seems to be more problematic in that there are so many types, and the vaccines only claim to cover for a few. Duration of immunity is also unknown. Leaving open the possibility for things to go awry in the future, i.e. the possibility of ‘unintended consequences’?
Are children and their parents being informed of the uncertainties of the HPV vaccines?
We urgently need an independent and objective investigation into HPV vaccination, but who can we trust to do that?
For more information, read my detailed letter to Chris Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief of The Australian newspaper on this topic i.e.: “Is universal HPV vaccination necessary?”
(Also refer to my emails to Profs Lyn Gilbert and Ruiting Lan on the pertussis/whooping cough matter.)
1. “We need to talk about HPV vaccination – seriously”. New Scientist, September 2011: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20928-we-need-to-talk-about-hpv-vaccination–seriously.html
2. “Resistant whooping cough takes epidemic to new level”. The Conversation, 21 March 2012: https://theconversation.edu.au/vaccine-resistant-whooping-cough-takes-epidemic-to-new-level-5959