Drug giant Merck does not seem to be having any moment of peace these days.
First it was the anti-arthritis Vioxx, then the osteoporosis drug Fosamax and now the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil.
MORE than 17 girls a week have been experiencing adverse reactions such as seizures and numbness, after taking Gardasil, since it became widely distributed in April, Australian newspapers report.
But the Department of Health and Ageing, while revealing the number of reactions, is refusing to release the details of them - despite growing controversy overseas, including links to at least seven deaths.
There have been previous reports in Australia of young girls fainting, experiencing seizures, dizzy spells and paralysis, including 20 students at a Melbourne private school who reported being sick after having an injection in late May.
The Daily Telegraph s that as of November 30 there have been 496 adverse reaction reports filed to the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA).
Of those, 468 of the reported cases had the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine as the sole suspected cause.
In the US there have been reports of up to 1700 women suffering adverse reactions after being vaccinated.
"Young girls are experiencing severe headaches, dizziness, temporary loss of vision and some girls have lost consciousness during what appear to be seizures," said Vicky Debold, health policy analyst for the National Vaccine Information Center, a nonprofit watchdog organization that was created in the early 1980s to prevent vaccine injuries.
But other experts contend the vaccine would have a positive impact. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which spreads through sexual contact, are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. The cervical cancer vaccine specifically blocks two cancer-causing types of HPV types 16 and 18 to get at the root cause of the cancer. In essence, the cervical cancer vaccine stops cervical cancer before even the first step can begin.
The cervical cancer vaccine also blocks HPV types 6 and 11, which are not associated with cervical cancer but are associated with genital warts and mild Pap test abnormalities. A study presented by Gardasil's manufacturer in September 2007 says that the vaccine provides partial protection from a number of additional strains of HPV as well.
Australian mmanufacturer of the vaccine, CSL, dismissed allegations of associated deaths in the US, claiming the women died of unrelated thrombosis or heart attack.
When Gardasil was released earlier this year its inventor, former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer, urged parents to vaccinate their daughters.
"It would be a pity if that opportunity was lost because of fainting," Professor Frazer said.
The national HPV program vaccinates 12 and 13 year olds in the first year of secondary school, along with a catch-up program for women up to 26.
Teenager Stephanie Kemp, 17, was vaccinated with Gardasil before it was distributed free.
"I thought it was important for her to have it," said her mother Sue. "To have these things available I think is fantastic . . . the pluses outweigh the minuses," she said.
Dr Rohan Hammett, TGA acting national manager said the safety of Gardasil was being monitored by bodies in Australia and overseas with more than 10 million doses distributed worldwide to date. He added the rate of adverse reactions was consistent with those expected with any vaccine.
CSL spokeswoman Rachel David said the majority of side effects were linked to people with severe allergies.