Cervical Cancer Vaccine ‘Not a Guarantee’
December 30, 2009
By Ritu Bhatia
Women’s groups and doctors slammed advertisements issued by two pharmaceutical majors that claimed vaccination against (HPV) was the best way of preventing cervical cancer.
The objection from Sama Resource Centre for Women and Health and Saheli Women’s Resource Centre to Glaxo-SmithKline (GSK) India and Merck marketing HPV vaccines as a “protection against cervical cancer” comes a few days after the Central Drugs Standards Control Organisation (CDSCO) also took notice of the advertisements.
In a showcause notice issued to GSK India, the CDSCO cited objections raised by experts who said that the advertisements claiming that a vaccine can prevent cervical cancer were inaccurate and misleading. According to doctors, the drug majors appear to have oversimplified the complexity of cervical cancer and this could mislead consumers.
Researchers also point out that protection from HPV need not always translate into protection from cancer. “The vaccination doesn’t always protect women from cervical cancer because this virus isn’t the only cause of cervical cancer,” said Dr Sidharth Sahni, a surgical oncology consultant at Artemis Health Institute.
The available HPV vaccines protect against only two types of viruses associated with cervical cancer. “There are several types of HPVs associated with cervical cancer, and vaccines have not been proved to be effective against all of them,” said Bhudev Chandra Das, former director of the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology and now a professor of biomedical research at Delhi University.
Ideally, the HPV vaccine should be administered to adolescent girls. Over the past year, paediatricians across the country have been urging parents of teenagers to administer them this vaccine.
But what many fail to mention is that this should only be given to those who have had no sexual exposure. “We first need to identify the target group for this vaccination,” Sahni added.
Vani Subramaniam of Saheli said the pharmaceutical companies were hiding information about the side effects of the vaccines. According to Anjali Shenoy of Sama, the health lobby should concentrate more on increasing awareness on screening the cancer rather than its vaccines.