HPV vaccine has withstood rigours of randomised controlled trials

Dear Editor,

This letter is in response to one that appeared in your newspaper earlier this month written by Sherlina Nageer et al titled `Gov’t should halt HPV vaccination programme, there are better options’. The authors stated that they “have a great and abiding commitment to health, empowerment, and rights of women.” As a healthcare professional involved in women’s health I’m compelled to respond as their call for a halt to the HPV vaccination programme is very disappointing and goes against their own commitment to health, empowerment, and women rights.

After reading their letter I was reminded of a group of young Christian adults about a decade ago who claimed on a televised programme that latex condoms don’t protect against HIV. Like Sherlina Nageer et al, those young adults were unknowingly peddling misinformation to the general public that could negatively impact many lives. It is false that the HPV vaccine is associated with “significant harmful side effects” as stated by the authors. Vaccination against HPV has been shown to be very safe and effective in decreasing cervical cancer rates (and other diseases caused by HPV). This is supported by organizations such as the World Health Organization, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics just to name a few.

The safety of the HPV vaccine has withstood the rigours of randomised controlled trials and intense surveillance before and after it was licensed. The most common side effects are pain, redness and swelling at the injection site which resolves on its own within two days.

For some reason there always seem to be people who will make bold claims that contradict scientific evidence. Some of these people are so convinced in their claims that they continue to peddle it inspite of a growing body of evidence to the contrary. Donald Trump famously said that he doesn’t believe in climate change, when Thabo Mbeki was president of South Africa he didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS, in 1998 Andrew Wakefield claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and Sherlina Nageer in 2012 and 2017 wrote letters to the editor claiming that HPV vaccine causes such significant harm that it shouldn’t be used in Guyana. It is doubtful the authors meant any malice, but their false claim is not supported by evidence and must be refuted.

Two months ago I had a patient who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Though she understood her diagnosis and was appropriately counseled she declined our treatment in preference to herbal supplements and prayers which she was advised by “friends” was superior. She also heard of other persons with cancer who were cured by herbal supplements. I encouraged her to stay in contact with me and to do some research on her own. Last week she decided to accept our treatment as the herbs were not as successful as she initially hoped. In the same way I will advise all parents who are unsure or confused to review the large body of evidence concerning HPV vaccination. Review reputable websites that will offer you reliable information and share the information with your friends and family. To Sherlina Nageer et al, your heart is in the right place, and I applaud and support your calls for increased public awareness about HPV vaccination and cervical screenings, equipped health facilities to conduct cervical screenings, and comprehensive sexual education in schools. However, on the issue of HPV vaccination, your claims are not supported by facts and can negatively impact the health, rights and empowerment of many Guyanese women.

Yours faithfully,

Rondell Benn


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