A bill to approve vaccines to help prevent cervical cancer in girls is expected to clear the Diet this week but reports of serious side effects have prompted mothers to form a nationwide victims’ support group.
The bill would add vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV), types of which are a cause of cervical cancer, to a list of other vaccines commonly administered to children.
Of the 2.73 million people who had received the government-approved vaccine Cervarix by the end of last year, 1,681 suffered side effects, including headaches, difficulty walking and loss of consciousness. There was even one death among the 785 cases regarded as serious.
Another approved vaccine, Gardasil, caused side effects in 245 of the 690,000 who received it.
But Toshie Ikeda, a member of the Hino Municipal Assembly in Tokyo and secretary general of the victims’ group, believes these numbers are only the “tip of the iceberg.”
“I think it could lead to one of the worst incidents of medicine-related suffering in postwar history,” Ikeda told The Japan Times. “The health ministry is supposed to protect the health and well-being of the people and it is absurd that the government is ignoring all of these victims.”
While acknowledging that the frequency of side effects is greater in HPV vaccines than in other common jabs for children, a health ministry official stressed that medical experts have found “no grave concern over its safety.”
The victims’ group, which was formed Monday, includes about 50 mothers, assembly members and doctors.
Cervical cancer is mainly caused by HPV, which is commonly transmitted through sexual contact. It’s estimated that 8,000 women in Japan are diagnosed every year with cervical cancer, and the disease claims 2,500 lives annually.
A mother of three, Ikeda said she has heard from many angry and heartbroken parents who describe how the vaccine has destroyed their children’s lives.
“These girls’ quality of life is horrible. They are unable to have a normal social life, often ending up in complete isolation and some unable to go to school for a year or two,” Ikeda said.
Japan has been slow compared to other industrialized countries to introduce the vaccine, according to medical experts. After being approved by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor in October 2009, municipalities began offering subsidies to promote the spread of the vaccine.