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Mother questions HPV vaccine

Daughter faints after receiving shot; health official says program safe

David Hutton, The StarPhoenix

Published: Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A concerned mother is warning parents about the HPV vaccine after her daughter lost consciousness following her first shot last week.

Louise Laplante, mother of a 10-year-old Grade 6 student at St. John School, said her daughter fainted in the hallway about five minutes after she received the vaccination last Thursday. Her classmates witnessed her kicking her legs and groaning briefly after she fainted, Laplante said.

The HPV vaccination began being administered voluntarily last week to grade 6 and 7 students at schools in Saskatoon. Consent forms were sent home to parents along with pamphlets outlining the potential side-effects.

Dr. Johnmark Opondo, the deputy medical health officer for the Saskatoon Health Region, said from his understanding the girl fainted and was attended to by a public health nurse, who determined she was OK. A report will be filed on the incident and forwarded to the province, he said.

"Fainting is something we do see sometimes, particularly with teenagers and young people," Opondo said. "Definitely we are on the lookout to see if we're seeing more fainting than usual from the vaccine. We do have a surveillance system that we monitor after any reaction like this."

Laplante said her family doctor told her daughter she may have had a seizure. Laplante was concerned she wasn't told about the incident until the end of the day, when her daughter informed her of what happened.

"What is the protocol?" she said. "Why wouldn't you call a parent if something like this happened? I don't know what to say, when somebody's kid falls down and starts shaking, you have to call 911. I didn't get a note, a message, nothing."

The vaccine, called Gardasil, has been debated since it was approved by Health Canada two years ago.

Critics of the vaccine have argued it gives girls a false sense of security and discourages them from getting Pap smears, while others worry the vaccine hasn't been proven safe and isn't cost-effective.

The vaccine targets the human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted virus that usually causes no symptoms and is cleared by the immune system, but which can become chronic and causes almost all cervical cancers. Condoms provide some, but not absolute, protection.

Provincial health officials would not comment on the specific incident, but said fainting after being given a needle is not uncommon.

There has been one report relating to Gardisil vaccinations so far in Saskatchewan in which a girl had an allergic reaction to the vaccine, said Shauna Hudson, the acting deputy medical health officer for the province.

"Things have been as expected," she said. "Whenever we introduce a new program there are lots of challenges. . . but we haven't had any surprises and we're not expecting any."

So far in Canada there have been few "adverse events" as a result of the vaccine, which has been administered in four other provinces since 2006. Between July 2006, when the vaccine was licensed, and Aug. 26, 220 reactions were reported in Canada, the most common being reactions at the site of the shot. Six hospitalizations following HPV immunization have been reported to date in Canada.

Hudson said infectious disease experts as well as agencies that include Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have extensively studied the vaccine. They have determined the vaccine is safe and about 90 per cent effective in preventing pre-cancerous cervical disease.

Laplante said she hopes other parents will consider her warning before signing the consent form.

"If I would've known," she said, "I wouldn't have got her vaccinated. If other parents know maybe they won't get it for their daughter."