HPV vaccination outcry

There is an immense anti-vaccine movement against which healthcare workers and others are having to rally to prevent the spread of disinformation. SciScoop asked a cancer expert to comment on the claims that HPV vaccination is a pharma scam.

The HPV vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that causes a significant proportion of cervical cancer cases is certainly not a “scam”. The vaccine is as safe as any vaccine (i.e. extremely safe, you feel particularly paranoid. Indeed, the single death associated with vaccination in the UK was associated with a serious underlying health condition and while tragic, there have been 1.4million HPV vaccines administered in the UK with no worse side-effects than a sore arm and the occasional fainting fit.

Cervical Cancer Vaccine VigilIt is true that in terms of lives saved, it’s a huge amount of money for a relatively small number, and women will still need to go for cervical cancer screening as the vaccine doesn’t wipe out all cancer-causing strains of HPV that exist.

However, the bigger picture is often overlooked. HPV vaccination is not only about preventing cancer deaths it is about reducing the amount of treatment and stress caused to women by pre-cancerous conditions due to HPV. The benefits of cervical screening is that it picks up pre-cancerous lesions, which can be removed and treated. But, this is a rather invasive process, requiring health services resources, and causing a lot of worry and discomfort to the women who have to undergo treatment. Often multiple treatments are required to prevent pre-cancerous cells maturing into full-blown cancer.

It is also worth noting that the whole cervical vaccine issue is a huge luxury for the UK. It obviously a noble, if controversial, public health campaign. However, we already have an extremely effective cervical screening program that has saved over 100,000 lives during the past decade or so. Statistically speaking, hardly anyone dies of cervical cancer in the UK any more.

However, it is decimating the female population of developing countries, affecting hundreds of thousands of women in Africa every year, yet another unspoken epidemic in the developing world. It is shameful that we have the luxury of a vaccine against what is probably the most preventable form of cancer, yet no moves are being made to make one available to developing countries on the cheap.

There is a lot more heat than light in the HPV vaccine debate, and I feel that many people are focusing on the wrong issues. The right-wing tabloid media in the UK and the anti-vaccination brigade do not help matters. Extremely rare side effects are highlighted, but where are the interviews with the women who’ve been through horrendous round after round of cervical cauterization treatments?

I suspect that those women would rather their daughters be vaccinated against the virus than see them suffer that treatment.