It's not been a great year for the HPV vaccine. First we learned that the completion rates in the US remain alarmingly low, and now the Japanese health ministry has withdrawn is recommendation for the vaccine altogether, according to The Asahi Shimbun. While the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is not suspending the use of the HPV vaccine, it has instructed local governments not to promote it for the time being. The decision apparently comes after the reporting of 1,968 cases of possible side effects, including long-term pain and numbness. In a follow-up piece, the newspaper says that the figure includes 357 serious cases, such as convulsions and difficulties in breathing or walking, and the focus of attention is complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
"The decision (not to recommend the vaccination) does not mean that the vaccine itself is problematic from the viewpoint of safety," says Mariko Momoi, vice president of the International University of Health and Welfare. "By implementing investigations, we want to offer information that can make the people feel more at ease."
Medical institutions must now inform girls wanting to receive the vaccine that the ministry does not recommend it, although they currently can still receive it for free. The ministry's task force is currently looking to establish whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the vaccination and the pain and numbness. The investigation is expected to take about six months, but an initial discussion of 43 of the cases concluded that a relationship between the vaccine and the side effects could not be established.
However, the decision to withdraw the recommendation was not unanimous. The study group was made up of five experts, three of which supported withholding the recommendation.
The decision has also courted some controversy in the country.
"Withholding the recommendation is tantamount to advising against the vaccination," said a municipal government official. "The central government has merely thrown all the decision-making to (those involved). I suspect that medical institutions cannot give a sufficient explanation (to people wondering whether or not to be vaccinated)."
"A few million people have been vaccinated in Japan, and a large majority have not reported any problems," said Ryo Konno, of the Jichi Medical University's Saitama Medical Center. "No country has suspended recommending the vaccination."
What do you think? Are you concerned? Do you think this will be very damaging publicity for the HPV vaccine? Or are you in favour of the Japanese ministry's decision? You can leave a comment in the box below, or on LinkedIn group discussion. Want more from Vaccine Nation? Sign up to our newsletter for free here.
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