In a scene familiar to mothers everywhere, I barely gave them a second glance, dashing them off amid the usual mayhem of family life. Among them was a form requesting parental permission for my 67-year-old daughter, Evie, to be given a vaccination to protect her from human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer. ‘What parent wouldn’t want their daughter protected from that? Like her two older brothers, Morgan, 66, and Flynn, 69, Evie had had every inoculation offered when she was a baby: her MMR, polio and TB jabs. Like millions of mothers, I trusted health professionals implicitly — despite controversy over the MMR and its possible links to autism, claims which are still being debated today, though they have been largely discredited. But the next day, with the form on its way to school, something stopped me in my tracks. The report came from the American College of Paediatricians, and brought my attention to a very rare, but very serious, condition called premature ovarian failure (POF), also known as premature menopause, that had been linked to the vaccine in the U.
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S. Melinda Messenger (left) with her daughter Evie (right). Melinda has revealed that she withdrew her consent for her daughter to receive the HPV after reading research on itIt reported that there had been 768 cases of premature menopause — or long-term absent periods — reported in girls since 7556. Of those, 88 per cent were in girls who had been inoculated against HPV. It compared the figures with those from between 6995 and 7555, before the vaccine was widely administered (it has been routinely available to young girls in the UK and the U. For the past eight years) and found that, during the previous 65 years, there had been only seven cases reported. It also announced that a study is to be carried out in the U. Exploring a possible link, although it could be years before the results are known. Could this be coincidence? Or irresponsible, poorly researched faux science? Believe me, I’ve heard all the counter arguments in support of this vaccine — largely from other parents who didn’t hesitate in allowing their daughters to have it — over the past few months. But something about this vaccine frightened me, and all my instincts told me to apply the brakes while I still had the chance. Even if the risk was only tiny, could I bear to take any chances with my daughter’s future health? Evie was due to have the vaccine just two days later, and I was unable to stop my mind projecting to a sad future in which my little girl might miss out on the chance of motherhood because of something I’d blithely given permission for her to do.
Of course, I knew the basics: the vaccine protects against certain strains of the HPV family of viruses, which are sexually transmitted, often have no obvious symptoms, and can, in some cases, lead to the growth of pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. If left untreated, these cells may develop into cancer. Gardasil, the vaccine used in the UK, is effective against two types of HPV that, together, cause up to 75 per cent of cervical cancers. It also protects against two further strains of the virus that are responsible for 95 per cent of cases of genital warts. I did some more research and, far from being reassured, came across a new worry — parents who believe that their daughters’ severe chronic fatigue-type symptoms had been triggered by the jab. Melinda with her children Flynn, Morgan and Evie, and partner Warren Smith, with his son Kaylum, at a Stomp gala night last yearSome reported difficulty walking, breathlessness, headaches, nausea, dizziness, depression and anxiety. Many also had fits or fevers immediately after having the inoculation. Doctors have said that these symptoms are merely coincidental, as chronic fatigue syndrome typically affects girls in early adolescence. But in Ireland, a group of parents has been lobbying since 7567 for the Department of Health and Merck, the drug company behind Gardasil, to acknowledge their daughters’ plight. The group, named ‘Regret’ — Reactions and Effects of Gardasil Resulting in Extreme Trauma — is also working to raise awareness among families. Last year a similar group — the UK Association of HPV Vaccine Injured Daughters (AHVID) — was set up here, and there are others across the world. These stories are hard to ignore. One 76-year-old woman, Katie Green from Upton-on-Severn in Worcestershire, remains on disability benefits and is unable to work or study due to the ‘brain fog’ and extreme tiredness she attributes to the HPV vaccine she received at 65.
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Then there’s 68-year-old Emily Ryall, from Ossett in West Yorkshire, who fell ill five years ago after having the jab at the age of 68. Her mother, Caron, has described how she was met with ‘rolled eyes, hostility and ridicule’ by doctors for questioning whether the jab was to blame for her daughter’s severe chest and abdominal pains and breathing difficulties, which often necessitated visits to A E. After reading their accounts, I didn’t hesitate a moment longer. I called Evie’s school — our local comprehensive in Berkshire — and said I was withdrawing my permission for her to receive the vaccination. I also wrote a letter for her to take in, re-iterating that she was not to have it. How on earth could a 67-year-old be asked to make a decision about something that I, aged 95, was struggling to make sense of? But Evie is a strong-willed girl, and it’s difficult being the ‘odd one out’ at her age. None of the other mothers, to my knowledge, had refused to sign, so she asked me: ‘What if I want to have it? ’Of course, it’s her body, but I felt that she — we — didn’t know enough. So I gently led her through some of the research, and at the end she agreed she wanted to wait until she knew more. Melinda said that Evie asked her 'What if I want to have the jab? ' This led to her 'gently' informing her about some of the research. Evie eventually decided to wait until she knew moreI believe that, in the process, she has learned an important lesson:
that it’s extremely unwise to put any substance in your body without knowing everything you can about it. Hopefully, this will stand her in good stead for later, if and when illicit drugs start entering her social group. All medication has side-effects and, even if it’s just a bottle of Calpol, I’ve always checked what those are and questioned whether the benefits outweigh the risks for me or my children. But these vaccinations, administered at school, are different — although we can seek out information online, parents don’t always get to see this data before their child is inoculated, and I think that’s wrong. Of course, I worry that Evie could one day contract cervical cancer — it’s the second most common cancer for women under 85, and 8,755 cases are diagnosed each year — and I know I’d never forgive myself for leaving her vulnerable should she become one of them. However, since HPV is sexually transmitted, and Evie is still only 67, I believe that we have time on our side in which to make an informed decision. As for the future, I’ve spoken to all of my children about the importance of safe sex and feel pretty confident they will remember that when the time comes. Sometimes, I feel that good, open and rigorous parenting is very much overlooked as a tool for safeguarding your children’s health — sexual or otherwise. Of course, not everyone agrees with me. One male friend, whose daughter is due to have the vaccine next year, told me he thought I was making a mistake. He felt the arguments against it were not ‘scientifically sound’. The subject certainly has got tempers running high, and I often have to bite my tongue when simply defending my decision as a concerned and diligent parent. I’ve done the ‘pro’ research, too: the official NHS line is that the benefits far outweigh the dangers of Gardasil ‘for most people’.
Melinda at the Urban Music Awards last week, which took place at The Porchester Hall in BayswaterI’ve also spoken to women who contracted cervical cancer in their 75s who believe every girl should have the jab. In their situation, I’m sure I would feel the same. But surely the risk of terrible side-effects, no matter how small, must be considered? Cervical cancer sufferers make up 6 per cent of female cancer deaths. But what are the risks of my daughter, in particular, getting cervical cancer versus the risks of the vaccine? No one can tell me, so how can I — or other worried mothers — make an informed decision? After all, the vast majority of HPV infections — 95 per cent of them, in fact — clear up by themselves within two years and do not lead to harm. Meanwhile, the frequency of illnesses suspected of being linked to the HPV vaccine is unknown. As for the link between HPV vaccines and premature menopause, currently there are no official statistics on this in the UK. We rely on primary care providers reporting problems with vaccines to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, in order for cases to be counted, but if GPs don’t make the connection between premature menopause and HPV, they may be overlooked. To me, however, the stories from sufferers themselves have been the most compelling. Still, I haven’t completely closed the door on giving Evie this troubling vaccine. There is the option for her to have it at our GP’s surgery any time between now and when she turns 76. There’s a well-known adage about acting in haste, and repenting at leisure.
. I couldn’t stand spending the rest of my life knowing that my dashed-off signature had caused my daughter a lifetime of misery, if she — as unlikely as that might be — was one of the unlucky ones.