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Fuad defends HPV vaccine

KWAME WEEKES Sunday, April 16 2017

Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, under whose charge the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine was rolled out in 2013, yesterday challenged the claims of a mother who blamed the vaccine for her daughter’s partial paralysis.

“Let me tell you something,” said Khan in an interview with Sunday Newsday, “that vaccine is the best vaccine in preventing cancer of the cervix in young ladies, if they ever are susceptible to it.” The Ministry of Health introduced a voluntary vaccination programme in 2013, its first round targeting 20,000 girls, ages 11 and 12, in primary schools. As HPV was found to cause 90 percent of cervical cancer worldwide, the intention of the programme was to decrease local cervical cancer rates which, according to the ministry’s website, was twice that of the worldwide average.

Since its introduction in 2013, more than 30,000 girls have been vaccinated and, according to Khan, none have shown any symptoms like 13-year-old Danielle Flavinney of New Grant, Princes Town.

“There is no proof of it, but yet it is given prominence above the millions of people who had it and had no side effects. So rather than giving prominence to the one person who say it is so, and have no proof, give prominence to the millions who have had the vaccine and had absolutely none of those complications,” Khan said.

“This is unheard of, and to attribute it to the vaccine is completely erroneous. It is going to cause fear-mongering.” This, Khan said, may cause young people to think twice about the vaccine, adding that, “if they are susceptible to cervical cancer you will be denying them the chance to prevent it.” Flavinney began losing feeling in, and control of her left hand and arm in January. San Fernando Teaching Hospital doctors could find no physical causes for her complications.

On two separate hospital visits, doctors diagnosed her with “conversion disorder”, a psychological phenomena where a psychological conflict or trauma manifests itself in physical ways, from paralysis to even blindness. Her condition worsened over the next three months until she finally lost feeling in her left torso, left leg, and the left side of her face.

Flavinney’s mother, Jamie, refused to accept the “conversion disorder” diagnosis. She turned to the internet for answers and found articles highlighting girls in the United States, Costa Rica and Japan around her daughter’s age who experienced similar symptoms. The parents of these girls asked the question, “does Gardasil cause Guillain- Barré syndrome (GBS)?” and Jamie asked the same for her daughter.

Gardasil is the primary HPV vaccine.

GBS is a rare condition in which your immune system attacks your nerves, leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis. Causes are unknown, but most victims recover completely over time. Sometimes it lasts weeks, sometimes several years.

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) answered this question in a fact sheet on its website.

“The CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink conducted monitoring for GBS following Gardasil vaccination from August 2006 to February 2012. During this period just over 1.4 million doses of Gardasil were administered in the Vaccine Safety Datalink population. CDC did not identify any cases of GBS among females aged 9-26 years old following Gardasil vaccination.” Sunday Newsday contacted Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday on whether any such cases had occurred under his term. Deyalsingh shared Khan’s concerns about Flavinney’s story inciting panic, but declined to comment further. “The Chief Medical Officer will respond to you after he investigates the matter,” he said.

Gynaecological oncologist Dr Gordon Narayansingh, however, said he had never seen a case like Flavinney’s since Gardasil’s introduction locally.

Flavinney’s mother yesterday promised to take her daughter to see Professor Gerard Hutchinson, head of Clinical Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, who has offered to conduct a clinical assessment at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.



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