Friday, September 19, 2014

Colombia: Angry Parents Blame Vaccine Against HPV on Bizarre Ailments

According to AFP, a mystery illness is plaguing girls in this town in northern Colombia, and locals say a vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, is to blame.|dc_pcrid_30891610723
First their hands and feet feel cold. Then they go pale and cannot move. Some convulse and fall to the floor.
In El Carmen de Bolivar, near the port city of Cartagena, dozens of teenagers have experienced similar symptoms. Some have even lost consciousness.
"They vaccinated me in May and I started fainting in August. My legs became heavy and I couldn't feel my hands anymore. When I woke up, I was in the hospital," recalled 15-year-old Eva Mercado. She lost consciousness seven times in a month.
For most of the families affected in this town of 67,000, there is no doubt about what is causing the problem.
They place the blame squarely on a vaccination campaign against HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, which can result in cervical cancer.
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COMMENT: The city's modest Nuestra Senora del Carmen Hospital has been overwhelmed by a surge of unconscious teenage girls being wheeled through its doors.
Panicked fathers bring their daughters to the facility aboard their motorcycles, using the town's dirt roads.
Doctors search, in vain, for possible cases of hypoglycemia or drug abuse.
According to hospital official Augusto Agamez, about 370 minors have checked into the facility. There was also one boy among them.
"There is no diagnosis or specific treatment," Agamez told AFP, stressing that the hospital was also helping families cope with the bizarre illness. "They brought me to the hospital sixteen times last month," said Beatriz Martínez. For the 15-year-old, it all started with headaches and backaches. Then her legs and hands gave in as well, forcing her mother to help her take baths.
The strange illness has forced even Colombian President Juan Carlos Santos to weigh-in and reassure those afflicted that the vaccine is safe.
Those comments were met with tremendous anger in El Carmen de Bolivar, already shaken by the country's 50-year-long insurgency against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
US drug giant Merck, which manufactures the Gardasil vaccine, said it was "confident in the safety profile" of its product.
"We continue to monitor adverse events reporting and are following this situation closely," it said in a statement to AFP.
"Merck/MSD will continue to support the ministry's immunization and monitoring efforts in Colombia." Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria was met with angry parents and and burned tires during a recent visit to a town confronting citizens.
While promising a series of measures -- gathering data on patients, setting up new tests, providing psychological counseling--the health minister stopped short of suspending vaccinations.
Those words failed to reassure parents whose family and professional lives have been turned upside down by an illness whose origins are still unknown.
"This is not collective hysteria or manipulation. If you see your daughter have these symptoms after a vaccination, who else do you blame?" asked María Veronica Romera, the mother of a weakened 13-year-old.
This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

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