Officials assure that HPV vaccine safe for young girls

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, September 30, 2017

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DAYS before the highly controversial Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cancer of the cervix is rolled out, health ministry officials are seeking to assure Jamaicans that the nation's young girls are not being used as guinea pigs to suit an agenda.

“The ministry is not going to embark on anything that's going to put the population at risk and certainly not our young girls. This is not a trial, we are not using our people as guinea pigs…we are not trying to prove anything to the world or to any pharmaceutical company or any big money interest. It has nothing to do with that. It is a tried and proven approach, science that is intended to make our population healthier as it relates to the risk of cervical cancer,” Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton insisted yesterday at a sensitisation session for the media, held at the Pan American Health Organisation Offices in Mona, St Andrew.

Starting Monday, October 2, the ministry will be administering the vaccine to girls at the Grade Seven level (ages nine to 14) with expectation that there will be a reduction in new cases of cervical cancer in Jamaican women. The aim is to immunise 22,338 girls.

The girls will be administered with a second dose within six months after the initial immunisation. The HPV vaccine is not mandatory, but parents are being encouraged to allow their children to receive the vaccine.

The health minister stressed that the vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and expressed concern about popular belief that it is dangerous.

“I am aware of the concerns and the queries. I am mandating that we and those who are driving it spend some time to ensure that the public is properly informed and that the queries that exist out there are dealt with just to make sure that we do not have misinterpretations of what we are doing and why we are trying to do it,” he said.

Dr Tufton further pointed out that more than 200 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in more than 70 countries across the world, 20 million of them in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

“… So from a perspective of the vaccine actually being administered over an extended period of time, if there were issues those issues would have come up; the guidelines from WHO are that countries like Jamaica ought to embrace and support this approach. Our own internal mechanisms tell us that we need to do what is necessary,” he stated.

Dr Melody Ennis, acting director of family health services in the ministry, stressed that the vaccine is safe as it has gone through rigorous testing, and having gone through all the required phases.

She stressed that the age-specific deaths in Jamaica for cervical cancer exceeds the rate in the region and the rest of the world. “… Vaccinating our girls will capture a wide range and in the future – 10 to 15 years and in some cases five years [so] we will be limiting the numbers of cancers that occur”.

According to medical experts, cancer of the cervix is the second most common cancer in Jamaica women after breast cancer, with almost 400 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in Jamaica annually, and 185 deaths from the disease. According to the WHO, in 2013 cervical cancer was the second most common cancer in women, with 528,000 new cases annually and about 270,000 deaths.

Health officials say Jamaica can reduce its numbers for this deadly disease which can lead to cancer in as early as five years from the point of infection.

Chair of the PAHO Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation Dr Peter Figueroa has endorsed the move by the Government to target girls before they become sexually active. “We welcome the introduction of the HPV vaccine in Jamaica and are confident that it will contribute significantly to reducing the terrible suffering and loss of life often associated with cancer of the cervix,” he said.

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