An international campaign — funded in large part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — to inject tens of millions of young girls with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is drawing fire from critics who allege the vaccine will cause far more harm than good.
Claiming the initiative will avert “over 1.4 million future deaths,” Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance announced it is investing more than $600 million to reach its goal of vaccinating 86 million girls in low- and middle-income countries by 2025.
The Gates Foundation co-founded Gavi and is one of its four permanent board members. UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) — whose second-largest donor is Gates — hold the other permanent seats.
The Clinton Health Access Initiative also sits on the board.
James Lyons-Weiler, Ph.D., a critic of the global HPV vaccine campaign, suggested mass vaccination will cause a devastating number of serious side effects among young girls, even though there are still no studies showing the HPV vaccine prevents cancer, despite claims to the contrary by vaccine makers and public health officials.
Lyons-Weiler, head of the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge, told The Defender:
“In 2009, we were told the Severe Adverse Event [SAE] rate of HPV vaccines was 6.5%. But a study we published in Science, Public Health Policy & The Law showed that the adverse events profile of the HPV vaccine is far worse than has been reported.
“Unleashing this vaccine on millions of girls and young women will lead to a mass casualty event these countries do not now have, and do not need. SAE’s will occur at the rate of 65,000 per million women vaccinated, and the claimed net benefits of the vaccine are just not there.”
‘No eligible girl … left behind’
Nigeria earlier this month became the latest country in Africa to promote HPV vaccines by introducing the vaccine into its routine immunization program and announcing an initial drive to vaccinate 7.7 million girls — the largest number yet in a single round of HPV vaccination in Africa.
Gavi said Nigeria’s initiative would kick off with a five-day mass vaccination drive in schools and communities in 16 of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Phase 2 of the campaign will launch in the rest of the country in May 2024.
Gavi, UNICEF, the WHO and other “unnamed partners” are providing financial support so Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health can offer the vaccines at no charge across the country.
Gavi is co-financing vaccine purchases and providing technical support. The WHO paid to train workers and set up vaccination sites. UNICEF is providing 15 million vaccines, infrastructure for cold storage and logistical support. It is also running radio and TV ads “in multiple local languages to dispel misinformation and rumours,” the press release said.
The partners trained over 35,000 health workers to deliver the vaccines at 4,163 sites across the 16 states participating in phase one of the rollout “to ensure no eligible girl is left behind.” Mobile vaccination units will be sent to remote communities.
“Gavi-supported vaccine introductions” for the HPV vaccine have been hindered by global supply shortages, the press release said, but those supply issues are being overcome “thanks to years of market-shaping efforts to develop a more robust vaccine market.”
HPV Gardasil vaccine-producer Merck, which has invested heavily in shaping the market since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug in 2006, last week announced that its 2023 third-quarter Gardasil sales grew 13% to $2.6 billion.
Merck is one of Gavi’s key partners in distributing vaccines in low- and middle-income countries worldwide.
The vaccine rollout in Nigeria comes on the heels of a similar Gavi-led — and UNICEF-, WHO- and Clinton Health Access Initiative-supported — national HPV campaign launched in Indonesia in August to add HPV vaccine to that country’s routine schedule. The initiative aims to vaccinate 90% of girls there.