HPV vaccine is safe
I DISAGREE with Consumer’s Association of Penang (CAP) regarding the HPV vaccination “Vaccination against HPV is dangerous and unnecessary” (The Star, Aug 20). Simply put, the writer is not a medical doctor and is therefore wrong to give an unqualified opinion. The following facts are derived from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, as well as medical publications. Every year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and almost 4,000 die from it in the US alone. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women (after breast cancer), causing an estimated 470,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths per year.
To date, over 23 million doses of quadrivalent HPV vaccine has been distributed in the US. Given the large number of women receiving the vaccine, it is expected that by chance alone, some adverse events and some fatalities too might be reported during a specific period of time following vaccinations. In the field of medicine, with strict enforcement by the FDA, the monitoring and analysis of reports are designed to detect serious events that occur at rates greater than expected, compared with what would be expected by chance alone. As of Dec 31, 2008, 32 deaths had been reported among the recipients of the vaccine.
There was no common pattern to the deaths that might suggest they were caused by the vaccine. Even if there was a causal relationship (which remains unclear), we are talking about 32 fatalities in 23,000,000! In cases where an autopsy, the death certificate and medical records were available, the cause of death was clearly explained by factors totally unrelated to the vaccine. For example, some deaths were related to pulmonary thromboembolism (blood clot to the lung), which occurred in patients with known risk factors such as use of birth control pills and a family history of a clotting disorder.
Furthermore, to claim that since vaccines only cover some subtypes of the HPV and not others, hence the vaccination is useless, is akin to saying that because seatbelts only prevent some deaths in car accidents and not all, therefore we should abolish seat belts. In addition, it is claimed that the vaccination protects only “two of the 40” HPV sub-types making it a waste of money. It is important to note that HPV genotypes 16 and 18, the “only two” referred to, are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer worldwide, and 50% of pre-cancerous lesions.
I really hope that anyone intending to write on such an important medical issue would talk to the experts, get accurate and substanstiated facts, while weighing the benefits of such a treatment, before writing such a publicly irresponsible letter. While I would agree education and other preventative measures are ideal, we have to admit that this is not an ideal world, and youth and adults alike will continue to be sexually active. This is worsened by the lack of sex education in school, coupled with the relative lack of awareness and funding/infrastructure when it comes to preventative exams such as Pap smears.
ADJ. ASST. PROF T. K. KHOO,
Des Moines, IA, USA.