HPV vaccines are safe and effective in preventing the HPV strains responsible for up to 90% of cervical cancer cases.
However, while HPV vaccination rates are high in many European countries, some have been affected by false rumours about the vaccine’s safety.
In short, it has been claimed that girls developed health problems in the period after they had the vaccine. This has been investigated. No link was found between HPV vaccination and any serious health issues.
In fact, the number of girls developing these issues was not different before and after the introduction of the HPV vaccine programme. A detailed report by the European Medicines Agency concluded that the number of reported cases was consistent with what would be expected in this age group.
For parents who have heard worrying stories, perhaps it was natural to hesitate when it was to vaccinate their children. However, these stories have been investigated and the concerns were ill-founded.
Protecting against cancer
The WHO and others are working to rebuild trust in HPV vaccination. Failure to do so will mean that women – perhaps decades from now – will die from cervical cancer who might otherwise have been protected.
As part of this effort, WHO Europe has produced a video to remind the public about the real risk of cervical cancer. It features Louise, a Danish nurse diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 26.
Louise had her cervix, womb, fallopian tubes and 29 lymph nodes removed as part of a physically and emotionally-demanding series of treatments. Now, she wants to tell others her story in the hope of improving vaccination rates.
For her part, Louise plans to have her now six-year-old daughter Hasse vaccinated when the time comes. HPV vaccination programmes usually offer the vaccine to adolescent girls before they become sexually active, often in their first year of secondary school – check with your local health services for details in your area.
“I’m quite troubled by the idea that I could have been vaccinated and then …avoided being sick,” Louise says. “My own daughter will be vaccinated….The fact that the number of girls in Denmark vaccinated against HPV is falling is seriously scary.”
Louise says it can be hard for her to accept that some parents are opting out of national HPV vaccination programmes. “They don’t understand the consequences of choosing not to have the vaccine….that you are at risk of developing cervical cancer,” she says. “I find it difficult to understand how they would want to take the risk. I just don’t understand.”