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A nineteen year old with a camera in rural Norfolk. http://rosajoy.com

Friday, 2 October 2009

One thousand, one hundred and twenty.

It's the HPV vaccine, not the Cervical Cancer Miracle Jab. It’s been hyped up by the press and a government who are desperate for good news cycles to fend off the wave of documentaries claiming my children’s children will still be paying off Brown’s debt. Not to mention, less than a week ago, this breaking story. It is no miracle jab, and when a troupe of NHS nurses arrived in college yesterday, unannounced and armed with trolleys and syringes, I found I was in two minds about letting them near me. So on Thursday morning, appointment slip in hand and internet open, I did some research.

And found this.

This kind of journalism makes me spitting angry, and I’ve had some experience with it. A few years ago I was put on a drug known generally as Roaccutane. The side effects are pretty radical, ranging from extremely dry skin to birth defects to depression and suicide. It’s a post I might write another time, but for now the point I’m making is that it is an incredibly controversial drug and the arguments are emotionally raw on both sides. In the USA some states won’t prescribe it; there are hate sites devoted to the “killer drug”.

But it works. And I wanted it. And I was well-looked after by some fantastic NHS staff, and after 9 admittedly rocky months I had never in my life felt better. No, it isn’t always a miracle cure, and yes, it can be dangerous. But with proper monitoring and a will of steel, it can help others too. What infuriates me is that the sites which call for it to be banned use arguments which are simply wrong. Not simply that I don’t agree with them, but that they are factually incorrect. That kind of scare-mongering by uneducated, ignorant, reckless individuals who have never had to go through the every day battle that serious acne entails is so thoughtlessly stupid.

Of course, the figures can be manipulated on either side; but it’s the use of emotive language which grates on me. Just give me the facts straight, and let me make up my own mind.

On Thursday, waiting for the HPV, I had half an hour to make up my own mind. Google it was. And like I said, I found this.

And it is wrong. I won’t challenge every single argument (indeed, I agree she makes a formidable case and some points can’t be countered) – but I’ll highlight the main areas of her argument.

“the media have largely parroted official assertions that it is "safe, proven and effective", all of which are unfounded.”
The media can’t be trusted, and that’s what’s so fantastic about them. They go looking for trouble. And so far, have they found anything to prove that what the government has been saying is false? Yes: a story about a girl who died following, it turns out, a malignant tumour. And a lifestyle piece in the Independent by someone who has no medical knowledge nor experience. And who is, incidentally, a man. Cervical cancer must be a real issue for him; he knows exactly where us girls are coming from.

“it is a fabulously expensive way to deal with a problem which, although horrible for anyone who develops it, is hardly a major health risk”
HPV is, potentially, an incredible major health risk. There are few health risks I’d class higher than cancer. No, HPV in its “normal” strain is not dangerous, but if a drug against it will protect someone from cancer then I see nothing wrong with that. As for “fabulously expensive”, I’d say that protection from a painful, needless death is priceless. A government who is prepared to admit that, and pay a little of it too, gets my vote.

“The fear is that the programme may reduce screening attendance as vaccinated women assume they are safe.”
This bloke has obviously never seen the leaflet we were all given. Nor the adverts on TV. Nor attended a high school PSHE lesson, or read the posters in a doctor’s surgery. We know we still need to be tested.

“Side effects included birth defects and juvenile arthritis.”
For one thing, there is no evidence to back up this point. For another, this kind of extreme side effect is warned against in most vaccines. The winter flu jab which has been prescribed to thousands for several years without general uproar lists both of these as possible side effects.

“Justice Watch has been prising figures for adverse reactions to Gardasil from the US authorities. Last October, the total was around 3,500; by this July, the figure had risen to 8,864, including 18 deaths and 140 "serious" reports.”
What is failed to mention is that all 18 of those deaths were complications due to underlying health issues. Like the girl in recent reports, it has emerged that the drug had very little, if nothing, to do with the deaths apparently “attributed” to the vaccine. Before the injection, a series of questions are asked about your general health which establish whether it is safe for you to have the jab. As for the “serious” reports; perhaps there is reason to be concerned. The fact that no more is said about this vaguely-labelled figure makes me think there is not.

It’s a balance of risks. 1.4 million doses have been given out, with a tiny percentage claiming side effects worse than a sore arm. On the other hand, 1 120 women will die of cervical cancer this year.

I’m not telling every girl to get the vaccine. Of course I’m not. I’m countering sloppy journalism which prays on the turbulent emotions of (let’s be honest here) mothers of young girls, who are trying to decide whether to let their daughters be injected with a chemical. I’m telling you to see the other side, and make up your own mind.

I hate injections. On Thursday, one of my friends took me to the front of the queue, asked me if I was sure, and passed me onto a (patient, understanding, funny) nurse who let me listen to my iPod while she did it. It stung a bit. There are two more to go. I’ll still have smear tests. But tonight I’ll sleep, just a little bit, more soundly.

I am no bird; I am a free human being with an independent will.
Charlotte Bronte, 'Jane Eyre' ch.23

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