Anti-vaccine group sends letter to schools against Gardasil vaccine

The widely-distributed email calls for schools to immediately suspend the Gardasil programme.
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The widely-distributed email calls for schools to immediately suspend the Gardasil programme.

An anti-vaccine group which sent a letter to schools stating their disapproval of the Gardasil vaccine has been called "misinformed" by experts. 

Director of Research at the Immunisation Advisory Centre, Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, has warned people not to pay attention to the letter. 

The widely distributed email called for schools to immediately suspend the Gardasil programme and said it was "unethical and a breach of your health and safety obligations" to continue the vaccinations at schools.

Sent by Gardasil Awareness New Zealand, it warned schools they would be "personally criminally liable" and civil action could be taken.

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The letter described some of the "harmful effects" of the Gardasil vaccine, which is used to target the types of HPV responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancer and 90 per cent of genital warts. 

"How can you, with all due respect, continue to promote HPV vaccination programs within your school," the letter asked.

Petousis-Harris said the letter was "fairly classic" anti-vaccination material that was usually distributed. 

"There are no scientific reasons to be concerned about the vaccine, it's all just misinformation," she said. 

She was contacted by health professionals after being sent the letter, who were concerned about the harm the scaremongering tactics could create. 

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"What concerns them is that sort of thing can get distance, and that's not helpful.

"By sending out misinformation, it can play on people's fears in the absence of good, factual information," she said. 

Gardasil Awareness New Zealand (GANZ) said in a 10-page response it was "heart-breaking" Petousis-Harris had not responded to any of the scientific questions it had raised. 

"Dr Petousis-Harris needs to stop posturing, stop spouting the usual antivax line, and start answering the very serious allegations made against her, and the even more serious data that clearly shows that this is a vaccine that fails to do what is supposed to do," said Gayle Dickson, spokeswoman for GANZ.

Dickson said she stood by the email, which was sent to around 2500 schools and relied on "scientific studies". 

She received a mixed response from schools, she said - some returned her queries asking for more information and others ignored it. 

Petousis-Harris hoped that principals who were sent the letter did not distribute it within the school and they did not take it seriously. 

There was no basis for the information in the letter, she said and no reason to be concerned about the Gardasil vaccination - which had been controversial in the past. 

However, Dickson called Petousis-Harris's response to the allegations "puffery with absolutely no science-based evidence".

The information in the letter claimed an open email was written to the director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which alleged "misconduct, malfeasance and what could be potentially be criminal behaviour by certain officials to mislead the global public on the safety of Gardasil".

Petousis-Harris said the WHO in every country supports the vaccine. 

It's really important to reflect on the importance the vaccination has had on the disease, she said. Already there had been a significant reduction in cervical cancer and genital warts. 

"We are potentially seeing a decrease in a whole lot of other cancers that this little malicious virus can do as well."

However, countries like Australia which had a higher vaccination percentage, had significantly lower numbers of the disease than New Zealand, she said. 

Among the controversy more than six years ago, an Upper Hutt teenager's death was blamed on the Gardasil vaccine.

However, the recently released coroners findings into the death of Jasmine Nicole Renata found no evidence of an abnormal reaction to the  vaccine. 

Petousis-Harris said it was a "shame" that the teen's parents did not go through with the cardiac testing to rule out an inherited heart disorder as advised, and instead kept blaming her death on the vaccination. 

When somebody gets sick or even worse dies without explanation, everyone wants an answer , Petousis-Harris said.

"Every year hundreds of young people get sick and a portion of those are unexplained. When you don't have a reason for that, that's when people go looking."

The risk of unexplained illnesses was just the same as whether you were vaccinated or not, she said. 

She encouraged people to look at those who had been vaccinated, and those who had not and compare the difference. 

Anti-vaccine groups have done this sort of thing in the past, she said, comparing it to a "spam email". 

"They've made up their minds about something and are pretty intent on disseminating claims that support their view," she said. 

CORRECTION: This story was originally run saying Gardasil Awareness New Zealand had been approached for comment. Their comment has since been added in.

 - Stuff

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