Government to fund $177m vaccination programme

The Press 03 May 2008
Moral campaigners have urged parents to think twice before vaccinating girls against human papillomavirus _ a leading cause of cervical cancer _ after the Government announced funding for a free immunisation scheme yesterday. But those calls were immediately dismissed by doctors, family planning specialists and Prime Minister Helen Clark, who said the vaccine was safe, effective and would save lives. Clark yesterday announced a $177 million programme to immunise girls against the virus, which is transmitted through sexual contact. Beginning in September, GPs will provide the three-injection course free of charge. Clark said the programme _ funded for five years _ would be highly effective against the leading cause of cervical cancer but would not replace the need for women to have regular pap smear tests. “This immunisation programme is expected to save around 30 lives a year,” she said. The vaccine will be available to all young women under 18 and will be included in the regular immunisation schedule for 12-year-old girls.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said there were far higher priorities for government health spending and questioned the safety of the vaccine. “There is also a moral question,” he said. “What is the underlying message that kids are receiving when you are giving the vaccine to a 12-year-old? It’s a bit like handing them a condom and saying, `Just in case’.” But those comments were immediately rebuffed by health professionals, who rushed to assure parents that the vaccine was safe.

…McCroskie said the money committed by the Government could have been better used to extend treatment for breast cancer or broaden prostate cancer screening programmes. He said in the United Kingdom, which already has an HPV immunisation scheme, one in four families were not allowing their children to receive the vaccine. “We wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to say don’t do it,” he said. “But we just encourage parents to do some research into the effectiveness of the vaccine, the safety of the vaccine and the underlying moral message that’s being given to kids,” he said. Concerns were also raised by the Green Party about the long-term effects of the vaccine.

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