Future

First Lawsuits Against Controversial Cervical Cancer Vaccine

Though no widespread risk had been identified since the release of the Gardasil vaccine, several young French women have suffered what they say are brutal side effects from what was supposed to protect them from cervical cancer.

Opinions vary on the costs and benefits of the cervical cancer vaccine
Opinions vary on the costs and benefits of the cervical cancer vaccine
Emeline Cazi

RIVES - Their mothers thought they were doing the right thing: protecting their daughters against a disease -- cervical cancer – that had been so gravely depicted on television and radio commercials, and was even the subject of a feature film.

But now, Gardasil, the vaccine the two teenagers took after it was put on the market in France back in November of 2006, has transformed their lives into a nightmare, say Laura Agnès, 16, and Laëtitia Celli, 20.

The two young French women recount how their days are interrupted by unpredictable paralysis, headaches and unbearable stomach aches that they say began after the vaccination that was distributed throughout France by Sanofi Pasteur MSD laboratory.

Last week, they sent a claim for indemnification to the Commission of Conciliation and Compensation for Medical Accidents (RCCI) in Lyon. Their lawyer describes the complaint: "The first problems occurred after their injections, and these young girls were in good health before, and there is no previous case of problems in their family."

A vaccine "released blindly"?

Agnès, who lives in Rives, in eastern France, had dreams of being a nurse. "Doctors have advised against the vaccine. However, for this profession, some are obligatory," her mother, Stephanie Agnès, explains. Influenced by the television spots, she decided to have her daughter vaccinated in 2009, when she was 14 years old. "She had not asked for it. I poisoned her. The numbers shocked me. On the news, they were showing women who were victims of this cancer. I told myself that they could not have released this vaccine blindly."

The first medical problems arose several weeks after the first injection: tingling, followed by paralysis in the left leg. It took Laura three months to recover normal use of her leg. At the second injection, when the elbow is touched, the neurologist believed it was a genetic disease, but he found nothing. Results of blood analysis were also good. "During this time, my daughter was going to school as much as she could," her mother says. Laura had to repeat her eighth grade

For Laëtitia Celli, from Digne-les-Bains in southern France, it was also her mother who pushed her to get the vaccine. "Even though she didn't want it," says Rachel Celli, wife of a police officer. "But they scared the hell out of me with their messages." The side effects arose the evening of the first injection: fever, nausea, and dizziness. At the second injection, Laëtitia, then in the 11th grade, describes "a stabbing in her stomach. It was unbearable. The dizziness and the vomiting would come suddenly every two or three days. I had to stop going to class."

Celli describes a life transformed. "I was energetic, I did sports, I saw my friends, and, from one day to the next, it became hell for me. I could no longer even go to the movies, since the light bothered me. At 20 years, I still had other things to do, right?"

Establishing a connection

In response, Sanofi Pasteur sent them to the French Agency for the Safety of Medical Products, which has received 1,700 claims for Gardasil that, like any new medicine registered at the European level, was the subject of a risk assessment plan. These claims concern "essentially the fever during the days just after the injection," says Bernard Delorme, the person responsible for patient and public information.

Some cases of autoimmune diseases were found, "but not more than for other vaccines," he adds. "The proportion of undesirable, serious side effects is the same as those that naturally occur in this segment of the population." In order for these young girls to be compensated, the experts at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry have to establish a link between the vaccine and the symptoms. But as of yet, no doctor has formally discovered this connection.

In Laura Agnès's case, the hospital at Voiron mentions, nevertheless, a "chronic polyradiculoneuropathic condition, probably due to the Gardasil injection." Another medical center in Grenoble, after having observed the "chronology of appearance" of the side effects, judged that, "to be prudent, due to the cost/benefit relationship, the third injection of Gardasil should be skipped."

As for Celli, she has latched onto statements from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry: "Finally someone has started to believe me, and find a solution to my pain."

Read the original story in French

Photo- rachel a. k.

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