Targeting young women should be postponed
1st August 2008
Women’s Health Action
HPV programme targeting very young women should be postponed
“International Lead researcher on Gardasil, Diane Harper has raised concerns on Radio New Zealand which Women’s Health Action believes justify a postponement of the mass vaccination programme for young women planned for next year. We are also calling for a careful review of the information provided to young women and their parents so that they are fully informed about the vaccine and what it actually offers them.’
The HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) Immunisation Programme starting next month plans to offer the vaccine to all young women 12-18 years through school based nurses and GP’s with the aim of preventing the most common infection leading to cervical cancer. However this morning on Radio New Zealand’s Nine-Noon show Diane Harper, one of lead Gardasil researchers , raised important unanswered questions about the vaccine and called similar programmes targeting Gardasil to young girls in the US “a great big public health experiment”.
Diane Harper, who spent 20 years developing the vaccine says it has not been tested for effectiveness in young women and there are questions about how long it will last. If it is given to 12-13 year olds and only lasts 4-5 years, as clinical studies have suggested, the vaccine may have worn off by the time they are sexually active and they will not be protected from HPV. The vaccine only targets two strains of cancer causing HPV so women need to know they are still vulnerable to other cancer causing strains of the virus and still need lifetime cervical screening. Having the vaccine doesn’t mean you can’t get cervical cancer or that you are protected for life and young women need to know that. A false sense of security is dangerous as women don’t get checked and it may be too late by the time they do, potentially leading to an increase in the number of cases of cervical cancer.
We believe that Gardasil is a useful vaccine but we are uncomfortable with girls under 15 being vaccinated. There have been no clinical trials for very young women and no systematic examination of the effects on their growing bodies. At this age parents are giving consent without any requirement for the young women themselves to be informed. The vaccine is still 100 percent effective when given to women who are already sexually active and who may already have been exposed to HPV. We feel it would be so much better to offer it to women 15 years and over. We have good information on the effectiveness of Gardasil for these women and they are able to make the decision for themselves and consent in their own right.