In just under a month the Ministry of Health hopes that hundreds of first form girls in both private and public secondary schools across the island will be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus.
Senior Medical Officer (South) Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand told Barbados TODAY that schools had been readily cooperative in the venture, but there was still much apprehension about its health implications in other circles.
Last evening a town hall meeting was held at The St Michael School in The City where many concerns were related, but this afternoon in an interview with Barbados TODAY Ferdinand sought to quell the fears that the vaccine might be harmful to the preteens.
Speaking via telephone, Dr Ferdinand, a medical officer for the past 40 years, said Gradasil, which is the first vaccine against cancer in the world, was so safe that “certainly if it was my child I would be giving her it”.
“As with anything they can be a side effect . . . [but] there is absolutely no evidence of [infertility]. The most common side effect is pain and swelling around the area where you get the injection and that happens with most other vaccines. I cannot tell if it is going to be you, me or somebody else who will have side effects but dangerous side effects have not been linked worldwide to the vaccine.
“Sometimes a person might have the vaccine and a couple days or weeks later develop something, but it might not have been due to the vaccine at all. It might just be something that was coming on anyway. So each case of adverse reaction that occur has to be thoroughly investigated to make sure that it is or is not the vaccine,” she said.
“This HPV virus takes a long time to do damage. A lot of people may pick up viruses but your body sheds it and you get better but . . . there are some who will still keep it in their body and then the virus stays dormant for 10, 15 years and then it becomes active and gives you pre–cancerous legions and then cancerous legions. Then it is too late, once you have had it and it’s done the damage,” the senior health official stressed.
Each year in Barbados, Ferdinand said, there were about 38 new cases of cervical cancer. She noted that the health ministry were trying to prevent cancer of the cervix, hence, they decided to administer the vaccine, which costs Government some $100,000, first to preteen girls as they are the most vulnerable.
The vaccine has been used for the last six years by more than 100 countries in the world. In the Caribbean it is administered in Trinidad and Tobago as well as Bermuda. Other Caribbean countries Ferdinand said are desirous of getting on board in 2014 but she said that cost was the only hinderance. (KC)