Stopping the spread of Japan’s antivaccine panic
“Japanese women’s health is increasingly at risk as public-health policy is driven by conspiracy theories, misguided political interference and bureaucratic caution. This is particularly evident in the government’s handling of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to protect against cervical cancer.
In June 2013, just two months after the HPV vaccine was included in the National Immunization Program, the Japanese government made the unusual and perplexing decision to keep the vaccine in the NIP but suspend “proactive” recommendations for it. This was evidently in response to highly publicized accounts of alleged adverse reactions.
The result was that girls in the target age group, from the 6th grade of primary school to the third grade of high school, stopped receiving the vaccine. Vaccination rates dropped to below 1% from about 70%….
The Vaccine Adverse Reactions Review Committee, a task force established by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s Health Science Council, has repeatedly concluded that no causal link exists between HPV vaccines and professed symptoms, and that most reported cases were likely psychosomatic. A study of 70,960 vaccinated and nonvaccinated adolescent girls from Nagoya also found no significant association between 24 alleged vaccine-induced symptoms and the HPV vaccines….
In Denmark, Kusuki Nishioka, the Japanese doctor who first suggested the HPV vaccine caused brain injuries, appeared on television. The vaccination rate there has since dropped to about 20% from 80%.
The antivaccination movement is gaining traction in Japan. On July 27, 63 young women filed lawsuits against the Japanese government and vaccine manufacturers in the district courts of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, demanding compensation for alleged side effects from HPV vaccines….
These events are reminiscent of the biggest vaccine scandal in history. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published “scientific data” in the Lancet as evidence that the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella caused autism.
Mr. Wakefield’s data was later found to be manipulated, but it was not until 2010 that his paper was retracted and his medical license revoked. Earlier this year, Mr. Wakefield released a movie called “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.” Robert De Niro, whose son is autistic, tried to premiere this movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. This once again fueled antivaccine sentiment in the U.S.
We can’t afford to sit back and allow a similar situation to develop in which unscientific claims jeopardize lives around the world. The Japanese government should reinstate its proactive recommendation for the HPV vaccine and set a positive example before irrational fear of the vaccine gains further momentum in other countries”.
The vaccine business
Once upon a time it was public health doctors who decided what vaccines became part of national vaccination schedules. In Japan and elsewhere the introduction of HPV vaccines to the vaccination program was engineered by the makers of vaccines. Vaccination is a business as much as or even rather than a matter of public health. See HERE.
When concerns appeared in Japan and the government suspended the heavy promotion of the vaccine it triggered an international response with the Center for Strategic International Studies, a body set up in the Cold War “dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world”, publishing a report on HPV Vaccination in Japan authored by Heidi Larson and others. HL and colleagues are based in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of the institutions that spawned AllTrials – somewhere with close links to Sense about Science.
You’d never guess from this document that the HPV vaccine was adopted in most countries after intense corporate lobbying. Instead, we are told:
According to experts in rumor psychology, rumors help people make sense of the world and offer an initial explanation for anxiety-provoking information and events. The longer situations of uncertainty and anxiety persist, the easier it becomes for rumors to spread and the more difficult they become to counteract.
Governments need to get in there, we are told, and be the first to provide information; they need to tell people we feel your pain; when people raise concerns they need to be encouraged to “talk to your doctor”, (who of course has been briefed by our side only). Governments are told they need to avoid a vacuum that might be filled by “people who don’t have the public’s best interest at heart”. They need to be on board with Project Fear.
HPV or not HPV that is the question
In Europe, especially in Denmark, there has been work in parallel to the MedWatcher Japan efforts, undertaken by Peter Gotzsche and Tom Jefferson who have filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman centered on maladministration by the European Medicines Agency of the safety data for HPV aimed at getting access to the data. Preliminary work on this material had shown real cause for concern – see Jefferson.
In response to the Wall Street Journal’s article above, Peter Gotzsche said:
Tom and a PHD student I employed two months ago are working with CRFs from the EMA on the HPV vaccines. To say that “most reported cases were likely psychosomatic” is an insult to these girls and their families. There are good data that make is pretty likely that most suffer from an autoimmune disease with antibodies against nerve tissue, but whether caused by the vaccine, a virus or something else needs to be found out.
We had a meeting about HPV vaccines on 24 Nov in Copenhagen. One of the presenters showed a slide that in Denmark, provided 100% of 12 year old girls get vaccinated, and that the vaccine is 70% effective, and protects against dying from cancer (which we don’t know but just think), then in the next 30 years, 10 will die if not vaccinated and 7 if vaccinated. Thus, even in the best of scenarios, the effect of the vaccine is likely to be very very small”.
What Gotzsche hasn’t said here is that company marketing of these vaccines has been full of rumors and scaremongering, portraying the vaccine as the last defense against a nasty and aggressive cancer, a defense that is close to completely successful and comes without problems.
In fact Pap Smears manage the problems very successfully, just as hand washing is our best defense against many other infections and both defenses come without a risk of neuropsychiatric adverse events. But we hear nothing about these approaches.
It’s not impossible that some of the Japanese cases are hysterical. The bigger problem we all have is that in the wake of the revelations about Tamiflu and Study 329 it is impossible to accept the bona fides of companies whose health depends on ensuring we get their treatments rather than rely on something else that is safer and costs almost nothing.
There is a certain sense in which the forces that fueled Brexit are fueling a Vaccinexit. If this happens the powers that be will have no one to blame but themselves. Peter Gotzsche and Tom Jefferson knew nothing about MedWatcher Japan before the post last week. The more people like this find each other, the more difficult it will be for the Heidi Larson’s of this world to manage the debate.