Wednesday, September 30, 2009

News headlines are no way to discuss complexities around vaccination

There has been understandable concern following the death of 14 year old Natalie Morton shortly after she was given the HPV vaccine Cervarix. We don't know whether the vaccine played a part in her death but we do know - or ought to - that sooner or later someone probably will die as a result of the HPV vaccination programme in the UK.

In the US there have been deaths linked to their HPV vaccine, Gardasil and few if any vaccines are entirely risk-free. The question is whether the number of lives saved is worth the risk. The HPV virus causes cervical cancer which kills over 1,000 women every year in the UK. These issues of balance are not easy for the news-driven media to cover.

But the debate over HPV is not going away anytime soon. Earlier this month the US Food and Drink Administration voted to recommend Gardasil for males ages 9 to 26 to prevent genital warts. Two years ago malehealth readers voted that boys SHOULD get the HPV jab. It's a complex issue - as well as genital warts, HPV is also responsible for 50% of cases of penis cancer - more serious than warts, true, but incredibly rare and, even then, rarely fatal. Vaccinating boys will, of course, protect girls from HPV too.

We need to discuss these difficult issues around vaccination. Otherwise, what will be the reaction when the first vaccinated boy dies? Killed by a vaccine against a virus that is not - in males - life-threatening.

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