Teenagers injured or disabled by cervical cancer vaccines are stepping up efforts to permanently end the government’s subsidy program for injections of Cervarix and Gardasil.
On Friday, eight teens, accompanied by their parents, called out health minister Norihisa Tamura over the issue. The schoolgirls, aged from 14 to 18 — including four in wheelchairs — and their parents are members of the Nationwide Liaison Association of Cervical Cancer Vaccine Victims and Parents.
Tamura was handed five petitions in a meeting with the group at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, association chief Mika Matsufuji said afterward. The request to abolish the vaccination program topped the list.
The other petitions included one asking for stronger government efforts to identify the cause of the side effects and to find therapeutic remedies. The side effects range from convulsions and seizures to severe headaches and even partial paralysis.
In April, the Diet revised the Preventive Vaccination Law so that girls aged 14 to 18 could get the cervical vaccine shots for free.
But an advisory panel to the health ministry later urged that the government stop recommending vaccinations for cervical cancer after concluding the reported symptoms were likely being caused by the vaccines.
The ministry reportedly complied on June 15 by telling local governments to stop recommending that girls 12 to 16 get vaccinated with Cervarix or Gardasil in light of reports about chronically adverse reactions. The local governments, acting on behalf of the central government, had been telling teens to get the shots.
At Friday’s meeting with Tamura, the schoolgirls, parents and the association asked the government to revise the vaccination law again to officially remove cervical cancer vaccines from the list of those subsidized by the central government.
“There is not a single moment when I am not suffering pain, and I want the government to find a remedy,” said a 17-year-old high school senior from Yokohama.
“I do not want the government to resume recommending this vaccine.”
The girl said she started getting severe pains throughout her body, including her head, after receiving her third Cervarix injection in April 2011. The process requires three injections in six months.
A 16-year-old in a wheelchair whose hands and legs were convulsing during the meeting with Tamura and at the news conference, said she can’t possibly be alone.
“There must be numerous girls who are suffering symptoms similar to mine without knowing their conditions stem from the vaccines.
“I took this action (going to the press) because I want those girls to become aware of the link” between the vaccines and their disorders, she said.
Toshie Ikeda, a member of the Hino Municipal Assembly who has been secretary-general of the association and attended Friday’s meeting with Tamura, quoted him as saying: “I am aware of the necessity to create a team to study this problem and gather information on the actual state of damage that has been inflicted nationwide.”
Matsufuji, whose daughter is among the four in wheelchairs, quoted the minister as telling the petitioners that the decision will be made after the government completes its investigation.
According to Dr. Sotaro Sato, who has examined many cervical vaccine victims, the convulsions, inability to walk, and involuntary hand and toe movements are being caused by encephalomyelitis, or the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
“Cervical cancer vaccines, which are chemically bound to special types of adjuvants, often trigger encephalomyelitis,” he said.
“Since the vaccines cause autoantibodies against the brain’s neuronal fibers to be produced in many cases, they have triggered demyelinating disorders,” he said, adding they have also induced many cases of cerebral vasculitis.
Cerebral vasculitis causes the body’s immune system to attack blood vessels in the brain, often leading to hemorrhaging, said Sato, who runs a hospital in Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
The marketing of Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKlein PLC of Britain, was approved in 2009. This was followed by Gardasil, made by Merck Sharp & Dohme (better known as Merck & Co. in the U.S.), in 2011.
The ministry says that it has received a total of 1,968 reports of adverse reactions and that 3.28 million girls had been vaccinated as of March 31. The association says that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Ikeda said doctors often reject pleas from their patients’ parents to file reports about adverse reactions, which are needed to obtain compensation from the government.
This is either because they are afraid of being held responsible for the shots or because they are ignorant the vaccines can produce side effects, he said.
Baby gets liver cells
The National Center for Child Health and Development in Tokyo has successfully transplanted liver cells into a baby for the first time in Japan.
“We have safely conducted an operation that could develop into regenerative medicine using embryo-stem or induced pluripotent stem cells,” NCCHD hospital chief Akira Matsui said Friday.
In the globally rare case, the center used surplus liver cells left frozen after 14 living liver transplants it conducted in and after May 2011. The donors consented to keeping the liver cells frozen.
The baby boy, whose liver was malfunctioning, underwent the transplant on Aug. 10, when he was 11 days old, and on Aug. 13, receiving cells that matched his blood type, the center said. Afterward, his liver began functioning properly.
The boy could be discharged from the hospital in a month and a half, the center said, adding it will keep track of his condition.