NEW DELHI: Several public health groups and civil society organisations have expressed concern over government's plans to introduce cervical cancer vaccine in the universal immunisation programme.
In a communication to Health Minister JP Nadda, they urged the ministry to drop the plan to include human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, used against cervical cancer, highlighting lack of enough clinical trials of the vaccines on Indian population and concerns about their safety and efficacy.
"We are extremely concerned about the long-term safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix—and strongly feel that it would lead to serious adverse effects for its recipients. The Supreme Court is hearing the writ petitions that have raised important questions regarding the vaccine's safety and efficacy as well as its relevance and priority as a public health measure in India," said the memorandum sent to Nadda, signed by almost 70 representatives of leading public health groups and women's groups, health researchers and health and women's rights activists.
It emphasized on the lack of adequate evidence of the safety and efficacy of HPV vaccine in the Indian context and that there is a lot unknown about the vaccine, including whether a repeat dose is required and how long the vaccine might protect from HPV infection. "There is no conclusive evidence which suggests that the vaccine will protect girls from acquiring HPV and developing cervical cancer later in their lives. These vaccines have not been in use for long enough to know the level of protection they will offer to young women when they are actually exposed to the risk of HPV infection," the memorandum said.
Public health organisations like Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and Sama alleged these vaccines were hurriedly licensed in India on the basis of grossly insufficient research. "A number of girls experienced side effects and at least 7 died post vaccination," the letter said.
The representation suggested that instead of spending resources on this vaccine, the government must strengthen health services including screening for cervical cancer and large-scale awareness programmes on HPV, cervical cancer, methods of preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and the need for screening.