Cervical cancer jab concerns

Concerns after 1300 girls have adverse side-effects

More than 1300 British schoolgirls have experienced adverse reaction to the controversial cervical cancer vaccine.

Some have dubbed it the ‘promiscuity jab’ because it is given to girls to protect against the sexually-transmitted HPV virus which causes 70 per cent of cervical tumours.

Hundreds of 12 and 13 year olds suffered reactions, from alleged paralysis to facial bloating, fainting, skin discoloration and rashes after taking part in a mass vaccination programme launched last year. Dozens were described as having pain ‘in extremity’ while others suffered from nausea, muscle weakness, fever, dizziness and numbness.

The Department of Health (DoH) claimed the side-effects were within the range expected for a programme that has so far seen half a million schoolgirls vaccinated. It also insisted that the Cervarix vaccine had met ‘the rigorous safety and efficacy standards required for licensing in Europe and elsewhere’.

Ministers say it will ultimately save 700 lives a year. Cancer charities urged parents to continue allowing their daughters to have the jabs, saying any risks were so minor and unproven that they could not outweigh the benefit of possibly saving lives.

The news comes as ministers rethink a decision to cut routine cervical cancer screening for under-25s. The Government raised the age for routine smear tests from 20 to 25 in 2004, after a study by Cancer Research UK, Britain’s largest cancer charity, found that the incidence of the disease in teenage girls was very rare.

The u-turn comes after campaigners highlighted a series of tragedies since the move. Latest figures reveal that cervical cancer killed 27 women aged under 25 in England and Wales between 2002 and 2006 – 15 of them since 2004.

A senior ministerial source at the DoH last night confirmed a rethink was under way. ‘There were good reasons to change the policy in 2004,’ the source said. ‘But we have been confronted with the potential risks faced by many women in this age group, and it was clear we needed to look again. I think we can expect a change in policy.’

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