Saturday, August 2, 2008

Is the US's HPV vaccine safe enough?

The US Food and Drug Administration has released documents suggesting that in the two years since the HPV vaccine Gardasil was introduced in the country 18-20 women have died as a result. During that time 8 million women have been vaccinated. That suggests the chance of dying from the vaccine is very roughly around 1 in 500,000.

You've 28 times more chance of dying from Gardasil than of winning the UK national lottery. It's not quite as simple as that since the UK is using a different vaccine - Cervarix - for which I haven't seen the side-effects data but you see the point.

The vaccine protects women against HPV which causes cervical cancer. The disease can already be detected using a smear test while HPV transmission can be reduced by practising safe sex.

But let's put these considerations aside for a moment. The big question is: vaccine programmes only work if pretty much everyone is vaccinated, is it acceptable for George Bush - or Gordon Brown - to ask citizens to run a 500,000-1 risk?

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