By: Paula Byrne, Dr. Darina O’Flanagan and Dr. Brenda Corcoran
31 August 2010 – The Irish Times
VACCINE DEBATE: The arguments for and against the cervical cancer vaccination programme
Gardasil has never been proven to prevent cervical cancer, hasn’t been sufficiently tested on the target age group, and not enough is known about adverse reactions, writes PAULA BYRNE
MOST PARENTS will do anything to protect their children. The idea that I could protect my little girl from cancer down the road is pretty compelling. This is the scenario with which we are presented by the makers of Gardasil, the vaccine purported to prevent cervical cancer.
However, the reality of this vaccine is far from straightforward.
Cervical cancer is relatively rare, with approximately 3.9 deaths per 100,000 people each year in Ireland. There is no epidemic to warrant the urgent introduction of this vaccine.
Cervical screening (pap screening) has been a public-health success. Deaths from the disease reduced by 70-80 per cent from 40 years ago due to more of these cancers being caught early. Most deaths nowadays are in women who did not get pap smears. So surely more investment in the screening programme is better use of public funds.
There are, as the old saying goes, lies, damned lies and statistics, and one would need to carefully study the clinical trials to understand how this vaccine is being framed as something that prevents cervical cancer when the reality is quite different.
The vaccine has been fully tested and will protect women from the most common forms of HPV-related cancer – and it is free, write DR DARINA O’FLANAGAN and DR BRENDA CORCORAN
EACH YEAR in Ireland about 250 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 80 die from it. At least 70 of these cases are linked to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
We now have a new vaccine to protect women from the most common forms of HPV-related cancer. From September, the HSE will offer a safe, fully tested HPV vaccine called Gardasil to every girl in the country who is starting first and second year in secondary school. It will then be offered to all future first years.
The vaccine is free, and international studies have shown that vaccinated women are less likely to become infected with HPV, and are therefore less likely to develop cervical cancer. Australia has already seen a reduction in genital warts, a key indicator of HPV, since vaccine was introduced.
The HSE programme, which will be mostly school-based, aims to achieve a high uptake of more than 80 per cent for the vaccine. Each girl will need three doses of the vaccine over a six-month period, which will substantially reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer as adults.