Britain and New Zealand began government sponsored vaccination programmes of adolescent girls this week targeting the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer. The UK has started with schoolgirls aged 12 and 13 this month and will launch a catch-up programme for 17- and 18-year-olds in October. New Zealand is offering its free jabs to 17- and 18-year-olds now and plans to move on to 12- and 13-year-olds next year. These two countries follow the US and dozens of others in opting for mass immunisation of girls, despite lack of trial data on younger girls, mounting data on adverse reactions, and questions being raised recently about the effectiveness and cost of such programmes. The UK government will be spending £18.9m in the current financial year; New Zealand has earmarked $177m over five years for a theoretical benefit of saving 30 lives a year.
Besides press, TV and radio advertising, the UK government is promoting the vaccine Cervarix directly to girls through online social networking sites. Website Lola’s Land — mainly patronised by younger girls — has ads that say, “Remember chica, this is a totally life-saving, revolutionary vaccine!” and “Let’s fight cervical cancer together and arm ourselves against it!” The text of the advert reads: “If you’re in Year 8, arm yourself against cervical cancer.”
Australian researchers have found that young women who received the HPV vaccine were five to 20 times more likely to have a rare but severe allergic reaction than girls who received other vaccines. The team, led by Julia Brotherton of The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, studied 114,000 girls vaccinated with Gardasil last year in New South Wales. Of these, 12 had suspected cases of anaphylaxis — a diagnosis confirmed in eight of those cases. The rate of 2.6 cases per 100,000 doses compared with a rate of 0.1 per 100,000 in a school-based meningitis vaccination programme. The researchers said the severe reactions were unusual and manageable and the vaccine remained safe. ~ Times Online, Sep 3; New Zealand Herald, Sep 3