The HPV vaccine has been recommended by the WHO in all countries as part of routine vaccinations and provides protection against all types of the human papilloma virus. It protects women against two of the most common causes of cervical cancer, which is why health officials are becoming increasingly concerned over campaigns in some countries advising women not to be vaccinated.

Three countries have now seen a major decline in the number of women taking the vaccine, and doctors have warned that similar campaigns could begin elsewhere. Health officials met in Dublin last week to discuss tactics to improve rates of immunisation, which could save thousands of lives each year.  

Japan, Denmark and Ireland are among countries that have seen online campaigns against the take up of the vaccine and have subsequently seen rates decrease at an alarming rate. The claims are that it can cause serious side effects including seizures and neurological issues. Scientists and doctors have confirmed that the HPV vaccine is safe.

Professor Margaret Stanley of Cambridge University commented that “Whenever a new vaccine is introduced, there is always a group of people who say it is unsafe. But the HPV vaccine seems to raise extraordinary levels of hostility.”

The vaccine is given at the age of 13 when young people are highly emotional and react to events very strongly. In addition, some parents feel they might be encouraging promiscuity by allowing their daughters to be vaccinated against a virus that spreads through sexual contact. Add to this the use of social media and you have quite an explosive mixture.”

Anti-vaccine campaigns have also been posted in Japan – mostly by parents – which claim that children are suffering side effects like seizures and problems walking. Scientists have aruged that there’s no evidence these symptoms were caused by the HPV injection, however rates have gone from 70% to under 1% as a result. Doctor Riko Muranaka, who’s been promoting the vaccine in Japan, said that “With this vaccine we could prevent many deaths from cervical cancer in Japan, but we are not taking the opportunity.

Heidi Larson from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has advised that quickly responding to the claims is the best way to tackle the issue, saying that “England reached 87% full-dose coverage in 2014, having averted a potential public public confidence crisis in 2009 when a 14-year-old girl died after being vaccinated. Health officials expressed concern, promptly investigated the girl’s death and found it unrelated to the vaccine.”

Larson added that the HPV vaccine has shown to be both safe and effective in protecting against human papilloma virus, which is strongly linked to cervical cancer.  “Globally there are around 528,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 266,000 deaths linked to human papilloma virus a year,” said Larson. “The HPV vaccine has the potential to eradicate the vast majority of these.”

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