Cervical cancer jabs cast
into doubt after experts question
Published Date: 10 May 2009
SCOTLAND'S multimillion-pound cervical
cancer vaccination programme was thrown into
doubt last night after senior public health
experts warned it might not be as effective
as initially hoped.
Government advisers in Germany are reviewing
the programme there after leading scientists
said the jab was failing to live up to
expectations on the number of cervical
cancer cases it might prevent. Now critics
say Scottish health advisers, who gave the
go-ahead for a £64 million immunisation
programme involving thousands of
schoolgirls, should review the evidence as
The HPV vaccine protects against two strains
of the human papilloma virus, which are
responsible for most cases of cervical
cancer. About 100 Scottish women die of the
sexually transmitted disease every year.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute, which makes
recommendations on the public funding of
vaccines, is reviewing its programme after
13 experts called for a reassessment of its
HPV vaccination programme and an end to
"misleading information" about the
effectiveness of the jab.
The HPV vaccine is said to be effective in
preventing the two strains of the virus that
cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases,
and scientists have assumed this means the
vaccine can prevent 70 per cent of cases of
But the German experts said the assumptions
simply did not stand up to scrutiny, and
that women remained at risk from other
strains of the virus.
Studies of one vaccine brand, Gardasil,
estimated it reduced the rate of
pre-cancerous cells by only between 17 and
45 per cent. The scientists also warned that
detailed data on Cervarix, which is the
vaccine used in Scotland, was not being made
available by its manufacturer.
Dr Ansgar Gerhardus, a public health expert
from the University of Bielefeld in Germany,
said: "The results of the studies clearly
contradict many overly optimistic
pronouncements. Women are entitled to be
A spokeswoman for the Robert Koch Institute
said its vaccination committee was reviewing
the situation, adding: "Because of the
public discussion and some new reports and
new statements from the 13 professors, the
committee will publish a statement within
the next few weeks."
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman
Mary Scanlon said: "Given this new research,
it is now incumbent on the Scottish
Government and the chief medical officer to
review the vaccination programme to ensure
that it lives up to the expectations of
preventing cervical cancer."
A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes
Cervarix, was unable to provide figures on
cases of pre-cancerous cells in women who
have taken the vaccine, compared with those
who have not.
He said: "The current scientific opinion is
that an HPV vaccine such as Cervarix should
improve the body's immune response to
natural HPV infection, which is important as
women remain vulnerable to HPV infection …
throughout their sexually active life."
The Scottish Government said: "We believe
Scotland's HPV immunisation programme is a
major step forward in saving lives. The
programme is based on advice from the Joint
Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
"Should the JCVI's recommendation change,
this would obviously be considered very
carefully by ministers."