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September 30, 2009

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Cancer shots halt after girl's death

BRITISH health officials temporarily suspended a vaccination program in an English city yesterday after a 14-year-old girl died a few hours after being vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer.

The National Health Service in Coventry said it paused the program for two days to give staff administering the vaccine training in how to answer questions from anyone concerned about its safety.

"We fully expect to resume the program in the coming days," the health authority said in a statement.

Natalie Morton died in a hospital on Monday, a few hours after being the given the Cervarix vaccine, which protects against two strains of the human papilloma virus that causes cervical cancer. She was vaccinated at her school in Coventry.

Morton appeared to be healthy before being given the shot. An autopsy will be carried out to see if there was any link between Morton's death and the vaccine, said Caron Grainger, director for public health at Coventry City Council. Health officials also said they quarantined the batch of vaccine given at the school.

School principal Julie Roberts said a few other girls also reported being unwell after receiving the vaccine and some were sent home.

The state-run National Health Service began offering the Cervarix vaccine to teenage girls last year, and more than 1.4 million doses have been given out so far under the program. The virus is often transmitted through sexual intercourse and authorities wanted to give the vaccine to girls as young as 13 so they are protected by the time they become sexually active.

The vaccine is routinely administered to millions of young girls across Europe and North America. No safety concerns about the vaccine have been raised elsewhere.

"As with any medical intervention one can, on rare occasions, see tragic consequences," said Professor Malcolm McCrae, virologist at the University of Warwick.

"But overall this is an extremely well tested vaccine which has been produced in response to a critical health issue, cervical cancer, a disease responsible for almost 1,000 deaths annually in the UK."

Dr Pim Kon, medical director at GlaxoSmithKline UK which makes Cervarix, said that the company was working with health regulators to investigate the case and that the cause of death was not known.

The statement added that the majority of suspected adverse reaction to the Ceravix vaccine so far have related "either to the signs and symptoms of recognized side effects listed in the product information or were due to the injection process and not the vaccine itself."

The cervical cancer vaccination program sparked controversy in Britain when it was first introduced. Some critics argued it would encourage girls to become sexually active at a younger age.

Morton's death comes as doctors begin to give children a vaccine against swine flu in a clinical trial.

Doctors across England have begun giving one of two vaccines to 1,000 children between six months and 12 years. One is from GlaxoSmithKline, the other from Baxter.

The trial aims to see which one is more effective on children.


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