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Home News and Update Year 2010 Cervical Cancer Vaccine may not Work in Bengal

Cervical Cancer Vaccine may not Work in Bengal

Times of India
13 May 2010
By Prithvijit Mitra
Kolkata, India

Cervical Cancer Vaccine may not Work in Bengal
It was touted as a magic preventive, the wonder vaccine that will change the lives of millions of women in India and around the world. But the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine– that is supposed to prevent cervical cancer– could be doing more harm than ward off the killer disease.

A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Kolkata– conducted among HIV positive women– reveals that the virus strains that the vaccine neutralizes are not prevalent in eastern India. The yet to be published research report also suggests it could turn out to be ineffective among women in other parts of India as well.

The vaccine ran into controversy recently after six girls died in Gujarat following a vaccination drive there. Many young girls fell ill after taking the vaccine, which prompted the state government to withdraw the drive. It had been launched by the ICMR and a US–based NGO under a rural health programme. An inquiry has been launched by the ICMR in Gujarat to check if the vaccine was responsible for the deaths.

Experts fear that the vaccine might trigger a similar disaster in Bengal. Even though there is yet no government–sponsored drive, the vaccine is being given by private organizations and some NGOs in rural Bengal. It is prescribed to girls between 14 and 18 years of age who are not sexually active. The vaccine neutralizes the papillomavirus which is transmitted from men during intercourse, making married women vulnerable to cervical cancer. But the research shows that genotype 16 and 18 of the virus, which the vaccine neutralizes, are not prevalent among local women. “The vaccine was designed to work against these two strains since these are the most common around the world. But since there was no India–specific research, none had any idea if that holds true for our country as well. There is enough reason to suspect that other strains are perhaps more common India which led to disastrous results in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh where it was tried,” said an ICMR researcher. The HPV has got nearly 100 strains, he added.

Doctors pointed out that other than being ineffective, the side effects of the vaccine could be dangerous as has been proved in Gujarat. “Skin rash and high fever are the most common side effects. Often, the vaccine–induced fever could be severe and even fatal. Most importantly, we have a far easier and cheaper option in pap smear that could detect the virus before it turns cancerous. I think the vaccine was introduced in a hurry without proper research,” said Subir Ganguly, senior oncologist. The HPV virus costs Rs 3,300 per dose. A pap smear could be taken for as little as Rs 300.

The vaccine could trigger a false sense of security among women, researchers said. “A vaccinated woman could actually be just as vulnerable as those who have not taken it. It could induce risky sexual behaviour which would be a backward step,” said the ICMR researcher. An extensive survey was needed to identify the common strains which could vary from one region to another, he said.

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