By Jane Metlikovec, Georgie Pilcher and Grant McArthur
May 23, 2007
AUSTRALIAN women will be the first to use a cervical vaccine for older women as a controversy erupted yesterday over anti-cancer jab Gardasil.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration this week approved the Cervarix vaccine in women aged from 10 up to 45.
Cervarix is the first of its kind for women over 26 and may be available in months, according to maker GlaxoSmithKline
Gardasil can only be used in younger women.
Cervarix's approval came as it was revealed dozens of schoolgirls fell ill after receiving their Gardasil shots on May 7.
Five students from Oakleigh's Sacred Heart Girls' College were taken to hospital and another 21 sent to the school sick bay after their jabs.
Health authorities blamed fear and anxiety related to receiving a needle, not the vaccine itself.
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott urged calm.
"It's not unusual for kids to faint before or after getting a vaccine," he said.
The reactions were not evidence of a serious problem, but he would look into the cases, he said.
The Sacred Heart students are believed to be the first to report side effects since the mass immunisation began in Victorian schools last month.
The vaccine, developed by former Australian of the year Ian Frazer, protects against strains of the human papilloma virus, which leads to 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
It is most effective in females who are not yet sexually active and so have not been exposed.
Year 12 student Natasha D'Souza spent yesterday having tests at the Royal Children's Hospital after she was temporarily paralysed and unable to talk for hours after her May 7 jab.
Natasha, 17, said she felt ill an hour after the injection and collapsed in class.
"My legs and arms were numb. I was paralysed," she said. "I could hear everything that was going on around me, but I couldn't open my mouth."
She was taken to the Monash Medical Centre in one of three ambulances called to get ill students.
Two students remained in hospital overnight.
Doctors told Natasha, who has missed weeks of school, her condition was unrelated to the jab, but mother Delphene D'Souza said it was to blame.
"Doctors say it is an unexplained medical condition, but she is not the only one to have these reactions," she said.
Sacred Heart Girls' College principal Christopher Dalton said the school would continue the vaccinations.
Centre for Adolescent Health director Prof Susan Sawyer said the reactions mirrored those in the US last year, where 253 girls had medical help and 12 were put in hospital after injections.
But a review found no link to Gardasil, she said.
TWO South Australian Christian schools will not offer Gardasil to students because they believe it makes girls promiscuous.
Some US conservative Christian groups want the vaccine banned because they believe young girls are more likely to have sex if their risk of STD is cut.