Twenty-eight girls and women suffering what they say are side effects from cervical cancer vaccines that were recommended by the government demanded compensation from the state and drugmakers Monday as their trial opened at the Tokyo District Court.
The plaintiffs, ranging in age from 15 to 22, said they have experienced a wide range of health problems, including pain all over their bodies and impaired mobility, after receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines between 2010 and 2013.
Each is demanding ¥15 million in damages.
Erina Sonoda, a 20-year-old college student, said she started to suffer strong menstrual pain after receiving the second of three recommended shots of the Cervarix vaccine, and the pain spread to other parts of her body after the third vaccination.
Due to agonizing pain, Sonoda said she has difficulty walking without a cane and often must use a wheelchair.
“I felt acute pain as if someone was squashing my internal organs. … Such conditions have only gotten worse,” Sonoda told the court while sitting in a wheelchair.
“I received the shots because the government recommended it,” she said. “I want the government to take seriously its responsibility for causing us (to suffer from) such symptoms.”
Since last July, a total of 119 plaintiffs have filed similar suits with courts in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, according to Masumi Minaguchi, a lawyer representing the women.
The government and the drugmakers — GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., who make the HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil, respectively — sought Monday to dismiss the compensation claims.
Representatives of the drugmakers said the safety and effectiveness of the medicines against cervical cancer have been scientifically confirmed and denied there is any link between the alleged side effects and the vaccines.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry began recommending in April 2013 that girls between 12 and 16 be vaccinated for cervical cancer. But the ministry halted the recommendation two months later following reports of side effects.
According to the ministry, 2,945 people out of the 3.39 million women who had received the shots by the end of last April have reported side effects.
A causal link between the HPV vaccines and reported symptoms remains unclear, and no scientific proof has been submitted.
A nationwide survey conducted by a health ministry research team between July and December 2015 found symptoms claimed as side effects of cervical cancer vaccines in both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.
The team is conducting further detailed analysis of the data.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women under 40. Each year about 10,000 women develop the disease in Japan and around 2,900 die annually, according to the National Cancer Center.
The primary cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus, a common infection transmitted through sexual intercourse. The cervical cancer vaccines are believed to help prevent HPV.
In December 2015, the World Health Organization issued a statement criticizing the government’s decision to cease recommending the vaccine, saying that “policy decisions based on weak evidence, leading to lack of use of safe and effective vaccines, can result in real harm.”