THE Scottish Government has been challenged to explain why it introduced the cervical cancer vaccination programme in a series of questions by MSPs.
Conservative health spokesman Mary Scanlon has submitted four parliamentary questions to Health Minister Shona Robison after meeting with a Scottish representative from the International Coalition of Advocates for the People (ICAP).
Freda Birell, of ICAP, raised concerns about inadequate research, incorrect data presented to parents, and serious illnesses being reported from girls who have received Cervarix.
Earlier this month, The Scotsman revealed more than 150 girls in Scotland have suffered adverse reactions after receiving the vaccine, introduced last autumn. It is being given to all girls in S2 and to girls in S5 and S6 in a catch-up programme.
The story led a number of MSPs to look into the vaccination programme and ask whether enough research had been carried out before Cervarix was introduced. Mrs Scanlon has taken up ICAP's concerns and has asked the government:
• How old were women involved in the clinical trials of the vaccine?
• What measures were taken to establish whether young women already have HPV – the virus linked to cervical cancer – prior to the administration of the vaccine?
• How long were the clinical trials of the vaccine?
Freda Birrell's MSP, Tory finance spokesman Derek Brownlee, was also at the meeting. He told The Scotsman: "The questions Mary raised cover immediate issues we'd like clarification on. We want to understand the way the government is pushing ahead with the vaccination programme and want more background information on detailed concerns.
"When anyone raises questions, it would be sensible for the government to be as open as possible and be helpful on why the government decided to introduce the programme."
Ms Robison: "While each (adverse] reaction is thoroughly investigated, it is also very important to put this figure into the appropriate context. According to initial figures, almost 64,000 girls in school – 92 per cent of those eligible – received their first dose of the HPV vaccine last year. If 150 of these girls experienced adverse events, this would amount to 0.2 per cent of those immunised."
The response has angered campaigners and parents who believe their daughters are experiencing serious side-effects after being vaccinated.
They claim many adverse reactions will not have been reported and that potentially serious side-effects are being downplayed.
Ms Birrell said: "Our Health Minister appears to disregard problems which are occurring within the vaccination programme and without attempting to investigate or show genuine concern for the adverse effects being experienced by some of our young people."
Cathy Jamieson, Labour's health spokeswoman, said she was watching the situation with interest. Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said the matter deserved full attention "in terms of a campaign".
Grace Filby, another ICAP advocate, has raised another concern: "There are serious errors in the published factsheet about side-effects. The figures were understated by two decimal places – and some common side-effects such as arthralgia (joint pain) were not even mentioned.
"Why would the Department of Health not wish to inform GPs, the schools or the general public that the risks of side-effects are 10-100 times greater than they originally stated?
"Would the public consider this a fraudulent act – a total deception, incompetence or negligence?"
The factsheet was also used on the official Scottish website, HealthScotland. The Scottish Government and NHS Health Scotland said no inaccurate information has been distributed.
The Department of Health said 50,000 copies of the document were distributed in May 2008, the printed factsheets had been widely distributed before the revised version was produced, and a recall would have been extremely difficult. No erratum slips were printed or distributed to GPs.
GlaxoSmithKline insisted detailed tests were carried out and any reactions to Cervarix were within the range expected of a mass vaccination programme.
GIRL, 13, UNABLE TO GO TO SCHOOL SINCE MARCH
THE mother of a teenage girl who has suffered chronic joint pain and fatigue since she had three Cervarix jabs, is offering support to Scottish parents.
Clare Ramagge, from Surrey, had to give up work to become a full-time carer for 13-year-old Rebecca, who can't get up, walk or go to the toilet without help and hasn't been to school since March. She suffers dizziness, chronic fatigue, aching muscles, sight problems and nausea on a daily basis – problems she hadn't experienced until the vaccination.
Three Scottish parents have been in touch since The Scotsman reported on Cervarix's suspected serious side-effects earlier this month. All believe their daughters' conditions are linked to the vaccination.
In one case, a previously active 16-year old suffered extreme lethargy, sore throats, flu-like symptoms, loss of voice, loss of appetite, lack of enthusiasm for any leisure pastime, painful muscles and swollen glands. Her doctor initially said it was a "viral infection", and then fainting episodes began leaving her unconscious for up to 90 minutes. The girl has also had fits.
Another Scottish mother whose daughter has suffered tingling, heaviness and fever, sickness, abdominal pains, dizziness and sight problems, failed to report the side-effects because she didn't know how.