Appeal to keep out HPV vaccine

A consortium of Indian health activists has written to the Union health ministry seeking a halt to any plans to introduce into the universal immunisation programme a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 8.08.15
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New Delhi, Aug. 7: A consortium of Indian health activists has written to the Union health ministry seeking a halt to any plans to introduce into the universal immunisation programme a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

The consortium has expressed concern that the health ministry has asked an advisory panel on immunisation to study the feasibility of introducing the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) into the government's immunisation programme.

Several strains of the HPV can alter genetic material and lead to cancer of the uterine cervix.

In a joint letter to health minister J.P. Nadda, the People's Health Movement, the Forum for Medical Ethics and health activists from across India have raised concerns about the safety and efficacy of HPV vaccines.

But doctors and vaccine proponents say the concerns are unfounded because there is adequate scientific evidence of the vaccines' safety and efficacy in generating antibodies against the HPV.

Two versions of HPV vaccines manufactured by multinational corporations are available in the country through the private sector. But vaccine proponents and a lobby of doctors have argued that the government should provide the vaccines to all girls free of charge.

"We are extremely concerned about the long-term safety and efficacy of HPV vaccines... and strongly feel that it would lead to serious adverse effects for its recipients," the consortium wrote to the ministry.

"The impact of the vaccines on the health of adolescents is also not known."

The letter cited case reports of side-effects that it claimed had been reported following HPV vaccinations in several countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, the US and Denmark.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority has drawn the attention of the European Medicines Agency towards the vaccine's safety and efficacy. The European Medicines Agency is reviewing the vaccine's safety profile, the consortium's letter said.

It claimed the vaccines had been "hurriedly licensed" in India on the basis of "grossly insufficient" research.

The trial of one of the two vaccines was restricted to adult women while the other vaccine was introduced after a trial on only 110 girls and no adult women, it said.

But some doctors say that since the vaccines were introduced in 2006, over 175 million women have been vaccinated across the world and 62 countries have included HPV vaccines in their national programmes.

"Evaluation of millions of girls through comprehensive meta-analyses studies have shown no increase whatsoever in the risk of autoimmune diseases, other problems, mortality, (or any) change in socio-cultural attitudes that can be attributed to the vaccine," said Neerja Bhatla, professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

"What has been documented is a decline in the HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for over 85 per cent of cervical cancer cases in India," Bhatla told The Telegraph .

In the US and Australia, the vaccines have also been shown to contribute to a reduction in high-grade, pre-cancerous lesions among women, said Bhatla, who is chairperson of the oncology panel of the Federation of the Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India.

A government study of HPV vaccines in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat had sparked controversy five years ago because its design had breached medical ethics and violated Indian regulations governing clinical studies.