Why Women's Groups Oppose HPV Vaccines


Newsletter Sep 2009 - Apr 2010


In a public meeting in New Delhi on 28 Dec 2009, women’s groups Sama Resource Group for Women and Health and Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, raised serious objections to the trials, study and marketing of HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines claiming to protect young girls from cervical cancer in India. They condemned the blatant and irresponsible promotion of Gardasil and Cervarix, marketed by MSD Pharmaceuticals and Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) respectively in India for several reasons:

These vaccines have been promoted heavily in U.S.A and U.K. with disastrous consequences, leaving a number of girls chronically ill with serious problems including the development of autoimmune disorders, loss of sensation and mobility and unfortunately, the death of nearly fifty young healthy girls. This has created such a strong consumer movement that within two years of introduction in the international market, the sales of Gardasil have fallen by 30% after bringing in billion of dollars in sales in its first two years.

Problems and shortcomings of HPV vaccines

Despite having being ‘studied on’ and marketed to millions of healthy girls and women the world over, here is what neither Merck nor GSK know about the vaccines they are promoting:

Unethical promotion of HPV vaccines

The overt promotion of these drugs is being carried out by the two drug companies to market their products in the paying segment. GlaxoSmithKline calls it a cancer prevention vaccine and lists no side effects but advises mothers to rush to the paediatricians (indicative of reaching out to girls under 12 years of age). This is objectionable because the company has not even carried out trials in India with this age group. The package insert for Gardasil marketed by Merck fails to mention the age at which the shots are to be given and has conducted trials in India with a mere 110 girls!

The Drugs Controller of India has taken exception to the advertising by Glaxo SmithKline, but the Merck vaccine has not only been left alone but is being allowed to be used in studies in rural, tribal areas of AP and Gujarat where researchers are claiming that the effect will last a life time (no research so far suggests it), there are no side effects except for mild reaction at the injection site (denying information in the company package insert) and the vaccine will not affect fertility or the chances of having a healthy baby (which is false as the drug has caused these problems in trials done so far).

Faulty programme vision

At present a large study is being conducted by PATH, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in A.P. and Gujarat on 16,000+ girls, 10-14 yrs, to design effective and appropriate HPV vaccine delivery strategies, a communication and advocacy strategy.

Misinformation is not the only weakness of this study. Gardasil at present is being supplied for free but there is no commitment for keeping the subjects protected in the event they need booster doses. It is also worth noting that in the entire district of Khammam (A.P.) there is no screening facility available.

Disregard for the welfare of girls

All in all, there is little logic in the way this vaccine is being pushed by the licensing authorities, researchers and the governments without adequate testing and by hyping the problem of cervical cancer out of context. Since there is no plan to keep even trial subjects under protection we can safely conclude that they are just being used as guinea pigs. At best the data will come in handy to promote the vaccine in the third world for which these girls are bearing the cost – one girl has died in the course of trials already. There is no system to investigate deaths or compensate people for damages or taking punitive action against irresponsible researchers.

The money and clout of Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, have succeeded in gaining fast track clearances for these vaccines in several countries, and despite the backlash, they are all geared up to expand sales in the less developed world without any regard to the ground realities.

The story of HPV vaccines in India is one of blatant collusion of multinational corporations and business interests, international NGOs and government agencies. However, the State bears the final responsibility for the situation, and the State must act in the interests of the health of the women and children of India.

Hence we demand: