Today Q&A about the news that a 14 year old girl died soon after receiving the Cervarix vaccine in the UK.
It’s always sad when someone dies.
I have no objection to the safety of vaccinations. It is a fact that there are risks, but they are remote, especially when compared to the diseases they prevent. We do not know yet what caused the accident but this is the first death in England.
Any doctor will tell you that death caused by vaccine will be very rare and that since 750 women die from cervical cancer in England every year the benefits outweigh the costs.
One issue does remain, the vaccine has not been proved to work beyond the 5 year period and the vaccine is marketed as working for 5+ years, so there may be a need for vaccinate again all those young girls (see death stats here).
I have to say there are a lot of critics out there. Some will question the success rate of the vaccine, some will question the link between the HPV virus and having cervix cancer, some will attack the marketing techniques, some will say that regardless of the vaccine a yearly review will still be needed, some regard the vaccination program as an experiment. So many more…
Apart from all these views which are well worth listening to, I am of the view that this vaccine program is worth being undertaken. I just hope a better vaccine will in time be developed that has lesser side effects.
All we know at this stage is that a 14-year-old girl tragically died shortly after being given the vaccine. We do not know her past medical history, and a post-mortem has yet to be held to ascertain the cause of death.
What do we know about the vaccine?
Cervarix vaccine prevents infection with the two commonest types of HPV involved in cervical cancer. HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus.
Cervarix is given in three doses during a six-month period to trigger immune responses that help protect against two strains of HPV responsible for most cervical cancer cases.
The vaccine is approved for females ages 9 to 26. The vaccine has not been tested beyond 5 years so it is not known how long the immunity from the vaccine will last beyond that.
Even with the cervical screening program, in England, each year, there are:
• 21,617 cases of advanced precancerous disease.
• 2,221 cases of invasive cancer of the cervix.
• 899 deaths from cancer of the cervix.
The vaccine will probably prevent around 70% of these. It has been used in this country for just over a year, and more than a million doses have been given. Worldwide, many more doses have been administered with a good safety record.
Is the vaccine safe?
The vaccine is safe, there will always be events of bad reactions and some mild to serious side effects. Since the vaccine was introduced (it is now licensed in over 90 countries), its safety has been monitored very carefully. In spite of millions of doses being given, we haven’t heard of other deaths.
Now i don’t want to appear biased but the side effects do exist. In the UK, Cervarix has been used for a year now, there have been over 2000 adverse reactions and over 4000 suspected adverse reactions. About 10 of these are so serious that their families are suing Glaxo Smith Kline, the manufacturer of the vaccine. Read here on page 2.
My conclusion is that overall, rarely a person does have a life-threatening allergic reaction after a vaccine and things have not changed with this one.
Could there be a problem with a particular batch of vaccine?
Until we know more, this is impossible to say. However, as a precaution, the batch from which this young girl was immunised (AHPVA043BB).
Should we go on using the vaccine?
The worldwide track record of this vaccine is such that it is most unlikely there is any problem with the vaccine in general.