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Chris Woolmams / Catherine Woollams
HPV vaccination and cervical cancer, the truth

On Tuesday August 26th 2008, I was telephoned by a journalist. Apparently whilst I was overseas the Government decided to give all 13 year old girls going back to school in the next fortnight, the cervical cancer vaccine, Cervarix. I missed this important, and potentially life changing, decision. This health programme will be backed by a large Media campaign and is designed to be the forefront of cervical cancer prevention in the UK.

The journalist rang me ´because I was against it´. The Truth is that I´m not against it - but then I´m not for it either. I just think it is potentially an enormous, over-hyped, waste of money, mainly because it is not proven that being infected when you are 16 by HPV actually causes the cervical cancer you may develop when you are 63. And also because I believe it is money that could be better spent on ´Health programmes´ elsewhere.

(Oh and there is a natural alternative Ellagic Acid  which could obviate the need for vaccination anyway.)

So, let us be clear:

  1. Vaccinating every 13 year old girl is quite probably against European Human Rights Laws - apparently you can opt out if you ask to.
  2. If you don´t want it for your 13 year old, but she wants to have it, she gets the vote, not you. At 13 she knows best.
  3. This is not a vaccination programme to stop the spread of, and hopefully eradicate, a disease like measles. You are not being somewhat socially irresponsible if you don´t have the jab. The Government has chosen the cheaper drug (Gardasil) from GSK and this is effective against just two of the 16 or so strains of Humanpapilloma Virus. Boys are carriers too. They are not going to be vaccinated, yet! However there is an increasing clamour to vaccinate them too but there is no research as yet where the vaccine has been tested on males.
  4. Neither the Press Release nor two ´experts´ I talked to could tell me for certain if this vaccine prevents the two strains from infecting the body or whether, once infected, the vaccines prevent the formation of full blown cervical cancer. I presume it is the former. Certainly the vaccine is no use if you already have HPV.
  5. The two strains of HPV account for 70 per cent of the HPV-driven cases of cervical cancer. You can still catch the other 14 varieties; you can still develop cervical cancer.
  6. By contrast, using condoms has been shown in US research to prevent infection by 70 per cent of any strain of HPV, and almost 100 per cent of HIV and all manner of STD´s as well.
  7. There are other alternatives. For example 4 US clinical studies show that Ellagic acid can prevent HPV causing cervical cancer lesions. (The Ellagic acid was provided as half a cup of raspberries a day).
  8. In the USA 6 million people carry HPV at any time. 3,700 women die every year from cervical cancer. In the vast majority of cases their immune system simply ´knocks out´ the HPV effects. One report I read talked of an average duration for the virus of 12 months in boys and two years in girls.
  9. If you really want to ensure these two strains of HPV don´t take hold, you obviously need to vaccinate before the girl has her first sexual experience. In the USA Merck suggested vaccinating all 9 year old girls.
  10. Conversely, many girls will still not have had their first sexual experience by the age of 19.There is no research evidence to show the length of effectiveness of the vaccine. Already there is talk of needing to repeat it every five years, so the second shot will come at the age of 18.
  11. If shots are required every five years, how do you feel about the prospect of possibly needing 10 in your lifetime, depending upon how sexually active you (and your partner) might be?
  12. The idea of Compulsory vaccination has been dropped in the USA. The American Society of Paediatrics was against it in the end, having considered all the issues.
  13. There are reports of side effects like dizziness and fainting with vaccinated girls. But then that´s girls for you.
  14. If all girls and boys (as some experts wish) were vaccinated every five years, this would equate to a 2 billion programme. Does NICE think we have this sort of money in the coffers?
  15. At current infection rates this will save between 500 and 700 lives in the UK annually. So, is this ´money well spent´? Even if this is successful, we may not see the results for 20 years.

The euphoria, the hype, the media coverage may well obscure some of these facts. We thought you might like to be reminded of them.

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