HPV campaign spurs picketing exercise outside Health Ministry
The Brickdam lawn of the Ministry of Health was the venue for picketing action yesterday,
a move which was engaged by a modest gathering of women concerned about the recent vaccine (Gardasil), which was introduced by the Ministry of Health to guard against cervical cancer.
The women, who described themselves as a “group of concerned women, sisters and wives,” were armed with placards emphasizing their concerns about the vaccine.
Charlene Wilkinson, an educator, was among the group, who in an invited comment said that her concerns are not limited to the actual introduction of the vaccine Gardasil as a means of prevention of the Human Papilloma-virus (HPV) but rather the manner in which the Ministry is handling it. HPV is said to be a major risk factor for cervical cancer but according to Wilkinson, there is enough information in the public domain that highlights both the “pros and cons” of the vaccine. She alluded to the notion that “evidence shows that the dangers of the vaccine are much stronger than the pros.”
The dangers, she disclosed, includes lupus and heart seizures, even as she disclosed that there are reports of one 14-year-old girl in the UK dying about one hour after receiving the said vaccine.
In fact, she revealed that a health professional who has an association with the company responsible for the production of the vaccine has warned of its effects. She explained that she has been privileged to have the knowledge that vaccines become acceptable by a society when there are problems of epidemic proportions when persons are in danger of spreading or contracting a disease. Such vaccines are used with the understanding that while all vaccines have risk they are administered for the benefit of all, she explained.
“But in this case, what is the risk? Cancer is something that comes from a poor or compromised immune system among other factors…All the information is out there. This is not prevention! I don’t understand how the Ministry can call this vaccination campaign prevention.”
According to Wilkinson, she is the mother of a young girl and “this is very, very frightening. If something like this is mandatory, and my child is in the society, I would be terrified! I am terrified about this situation…”
The aim of the picket action, she said, is to have the Ministry of Health halt its Gardasil-vaccination campaign and that a public debate be allowed.
She noted that while the group has not yet sought audience with the Minister, the move is currently in the pipeline.
She admitted that while the action might be a bit late in coming (one day after the commencement of the vaccination programme) “we got out to voice our concerns as soon as we could’ve alerted people…we should have come out here much sooner….”
Retired health professional Ms. Penda Guyan, who once rendered her skills to a Los Angeles public hospital, also shared her concerns about the vaccination campaign. She revealed that she found out about the campaign via an online news report.
“When I saw it I became very concerned and I started to do some research on it and I found some information that I found very disturbing. I knew of this from the United States but did not dream that it would be here in Guyana…So I started discussing this just to get parents to understand that they need to do some research and understand what they are getting their children into. Even if one in 1,000 dies, it is way too horrific.”
Ms Guyan is convinced that the Ministry has been putting out one-sided information on the reality of the vaccine and as such, she reiterated the importance of having a debate even as she stressed the need for parents to know the possible effects and then make individual choices to embrace or reject.
“Let it be an informative choice that they are making…that is all that we are asking, nothing more, nothing less.”
Guyan alluded to a number of websites including naturalnews.com, which has published a number of articles that speak to the dangers of the vaccine Gardasil. There are reports that the Merck-manufactured Gardasil has been found to be contaminated with a genetically modified recombinant virus that makes the vaccine bio hazardous and a threat to the health and well-being of the population that it is targeted to protect.
Founder of United States-based Personal Achievement Through Health Education (PATHE) Ministry, Dione Primo, underscored her belief that the Ministry’s target group (girls between the ages of 11 and 13) do not even fit the criteria for cervical cancer prevention vaccine. She noted that the disease is found to be prevalent in women who are known to have multiple sex partners and certainly not in young girls even if they are sexually active.
The picketing exercise also saw the support of Vanessa Ross, Margaret Inniss, Susan Collymore, Norma Adrian and Halima Khan, all members of Red Thread.
Yesterday too, a member of a religious organization questioned the credibility of the vaccine, even as he pointed out that the public has not been adequately educated. “Is it that our children have to be the guinea-pigs to test this vaccine?” he queried. “People are asking me about it; they are talking but I don’t have the answers…The Ministry needs to explain this campaign a bit more to the public.”
The Ministry of Health commenced its vaccination to guard against cervical cancer on some girls between the ages of 11 and 13 at the East La Penitence Health Center, a campaign which is slated to continue for the next six months. Some 20,000 does will be administered in three batches at both health centers and primary schools to girls in Regions Three, Four, Five and Six.
Minister of Health Dr. Bheri Ramsaran, in response to news of the picketing exercise, said that he is of the firm belief that all of the concerns associated with the vaccine could be easily dispelled if persons would’ve sought to listen to the speakers who preceded him at the launch of the vaccine on Wednesday. He made reference to the messages amplified by both Dr. Beverly Barnett, Representative of the Pan American Health Organisation, and Director of the Ministry of Health’s Maternal and Child Health Department, Dr Janice Woolford.
The Minister expressed his own concerns about the recent “uproar” over the vaccination campaign, which according to him, is possibly one of the most expensive campaign ever undertaken by the Ministry. He made mention of the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency which introduced the vaccine in 2008 had dealt with concerns about the vaccine and had even allowed members of the public to post concerns on its website. But while the local Health Ministry has no intention on embarking on such a move, the Minister said that the Ministry has enough evidence to prove that the vaccine is worth the Ministry’s effort in an attempt to address the potential risk of cervical cancer.
The Minister, during a previous interview had challenged “naysayers” to bring their concerns to the Ministry even as he refuted suggestions that HPV is known to affect a miniscule amount of women thus a massive programme to combat its impact may be irrelevant. “The naysayers will have to come to us with their facts and qualifications, because the Ministry has found that our rigorous and robust approach over the years has been working effectively,” the Minister said, even as he alluded to the fact that the Ministry is not undertaking the programme on its own but rather in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation.
With a primary aim of arresting the potential impact of women contracting cervical cancer and also to prevent other health issues such as genital warts and even cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva, the Ministry of Health made a decision to engage the ambitious. “The Government has decided to undertake this programme because we are in the business of prevention this is not just about vaccinating people it about addressing a real challenge…,” the Minister stressed.
Reiterating the importance of prevention, the Minister asserted that the Ministry is aware that the effects of the disease is not likely to be felt immediately but rather later in life perhaps when persons are between the ages of 35 and 50. “The Ministry doesn’t just go and do things ‘willy nilly’. Our rigorous approach to dealing with health challenges has been proven over the years to be very successful. The Ministry has had success in its prophylaxis programmes and our vaccination programmes can be considered one of the better in the world.”