Tuesday, September 2, 2008
The pink leaflets are ready, the posters are poised to go up and the advertising slots have been booked both on kids and primetime TV and radio.
Tomorrow marks the start of a new academic year. It is also the launch date of a campaign which heralds the introduction of the biggest mass vaccination programme for more than a decade.
By the end of September, there will hardly be a Year Eight girl (aged 12-13) in the country who doesn’t know that, barring an opt-out, she is shortly to receive three injections of the drug Cervarix, which will offer her 70 per cent protection against cervical cancer.
(Article continues below)
Later in the year, another 300,000 girls aged 17 and 18 will be vaccinated before they leave school. By 2012, most girls over the age of 12 should have received the vaccine.
Made by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmith-Kline, Cervarix works by creating an immunity against the two strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), numbers 16 and 18, responsible for 70 per cent of all cervical cancers.
For the Government, the programme – reputed to have cost tens of millions of pounds – has been seen as little short of a community medicine triumph.
‘This vaccine could save the lives of 400 women a year,’ pronounced public health minister Dawn Primarolo earlier this year, shortly after it was announced that GlaxoSmithKline had won the contract to supply the drug over its rival Merck, who make the more expensive vaccine, Gardasil.
Marylin Smith, 55, a shop assistant from Harrow, Middlesex, has two children Daniel, 15, and Gaby, 11. Gaby is due for the jab in September 2009 but will opt out.
She says: Since Gaby suffered a bad reaction to a tetanus jab as a baby I have become much more questioning about the idea of vaccination.
I am not against it, but if I am going to agree to something being injected into my daughter I want to make sure it is safe, effective and has no side-effects.
Cervarix answers none of my questions satisfactorily. So until there is more long-term data I feel there are better ways of protecting my daughter against cervical cancer.
We already have a good open relationship and I will be rigorous in educating her about the perils of unsafe sex – not just in regard to cervical cancer but also about genital warts, other sexually transmitted diseases and, of course, unwanted pregnancy.
Using a condom gives 100 per cent protection against cervical cancer, the vaccination can only offer 70 per cent at best.
I am not particularly impressed by the fact that this vaccine will be given at school by an anonymous medical team.
It should be a matter between the parent, the child and their GP, who knows the child and is aware of her medical history and can watch and record any adverse side-effects.
I am fully expecting that both Gaby and I will be put under considerable pressure for her to have the jab and I know in America those who opted out have been made to feel as if they were bad parents, which is outrageous.
I don’t think the vaccine will encourage promiscuity, there will always be girls who sleep around, but I do think it will make girls more blase about their sexual health, less likely to use a condom and less likely to go for screening.
But my main concern is that we have no idea of the long-term effects of this vaccine – whether it works, for how long and whether it can harm the immune system.
I am not going to expose my daughter to that level of risk and she doesn’t want it either.
This article was posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 11:26 am