Yesterday, a government advisory panel to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommended that doctors stop encouraging patients to be vaccinated against the HPV virus. Following a spate of reports of lingering pain from the shots and the organization of a parents support group of purported victims, the panel concluded that the ministry that should ask doctors to suspend the practice of telling patients and their parents that receiving the shots is a good idea. (Link - J)
An oddity in this story is the lack of agreement on how many cases of mysterious pains have been reported. NHK is reporting 33 cases, with 8 patients still suffering from unresolved pain. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun is reporting 38 cases out of the 3.28 million patients who have received the shots since November of 2010 (Link - J). The Asahi Shimbun is reporting 43 cases over the same timespan (Link). The Mainichi Shimbun is also reporting 43 cases, with 11 of them with still unresolved pain. (Link- J)
Ostensibly, all these news organizations had their representatives at yesterday's meeting, or received the reports of the advisory panel's recommendatoin. How can the numbers coming out of the meeting be all over the map?
Since the panel has not recommended a halt in the vaccinations, it is difficult to assess what it is recommending the MHLW ask doctors to do. The incidence of mysterious pains is around 1 in 100,000, with the instances of lasting pains less than 1 in 300,000. At the same time, known adverse reactions to the vaccine (such as anaphalactic shock) numbered over 10,000. That and the fact that cervical cancer kills 2,700 Japanese women every year seems to argue that panic in the face of pressure is...inadvisable?
Women's health advocates fought a long and costly battle to push the health industry and the government into including the HPV vaccine in the regimen of standard vaccines provided free for minors. It is both saddening and entirely in character that the advisory panel has chosen to delegitimize the program at the first sign of trouble, on the entirely political and utterly unscientific excuse of "Well, we do not know what is going on, but to cover our behinds let us retreat to the position of being neither for nor against the vaccinations."
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