Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 17:00 UK

Schools resume anti-cancer jabs

Human papillomavirus
The human papilloma virus (HPV)causes most cases of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer vaccination programmes in UK schools are resuming following the news that a 14-year-old girl died shortly after having the jab.

Tests have shown Natalie Morton had a "serious underlying medical condition" and the jab was "most unlikely" to have caused her death, NHS Coventry said.

Her death on Monday sparked concern among pupils and parents.

On Tuesday, HPV1 Cervarix vaccinations were temporarily suspended by some schools and primary care trusts.

In Coventry, vaccinations were cancelled in two schools on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But, following the results of Natalie's preliminary post-mortem examination the vaccination programme would resume next Monday, a spokesman for NHS Coventry said.

In Oxfordshire, the director of public health, Dr Jonathan McWilliam, said: "In line with the chief medical officer's recommendations, we are continuing with the HPV programme.

"School nurses are having discussions with their local schools individually and school nurses are happy to answer any queries from girls or parents."

But individual schools may still suspend their programmes, depending on local concerns.

For example, senior staff at the independent Oxford High School suspended its vaccinations, following concerns from pupils and parents.

"We will wait until the results of the post-mortem are known before we make any further decisions about starting the immunisation programme," a statement on the school's website said.

"We thought that caution would be the more sensible approach," a spokeswoman added.

'Continue as planned'

The Department of Health insisted there was "no reason for the campaign to be suspended or interrupted" and said vaccinations should continue as planned.

"The HPV vaccine has passed the rigorous safety testing needed for it to be used in the UK and other European countries," a spokesman said.

"The vaccine has a strong safety record so there is no reason to suspend the HPV programme."

Public health minister Gillian Merron said: "We hope that girls continue to protect themselves against cervical cancer by having this vaccine."

MMR scare

Philip Stevens, director of health at International Policy Network think tank, said the chance of developing a severe, life-threatening reaction to the vaccine was around one in a million.

"The probability of a British woman developing cervical cancer over her lifetime is one in 136, or 0.74% - that's 7,400 times greater," he said.

"The risks of taking the vaccine are therefore many, many times smaller than not taking the vaccine and going on to develop cervical cancer."

He warned against another MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) scare, saying similar fears about the cervical cancer jab would lead to avoidable suffering and death in the future.

A routine programme of vaccinating 12- and 13-year-old girls started in September 2008 using the Cervarix vaccine. A catch-up campaign is now under way for older girls.

About a million girls have already received the jab.

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