Last week I presented the safety study for the Gardasil qHPV vaccine, after this a reader remarked that it was a relief to see as she was concerned by a story she had read. It revolved around the unfortunate case of a UK school girl who died shortly after receiving a vaccine. As the full story does not yet seem to have been covered adequately by local news I thought I would cover the salient points here.

Firstly there are two competing HPV vaccines in the world market, Gardasil produced by Merk and Cervarix made by GalaxoSmithKline (GSK).  Here in New Zealand we have opted for the Merk version of the vaccine while the UK uses GSK’s product. Cervarix immunizes against the HPV strains 16 and 18 which are implicated in development of cervical cancer while Gardasil also covers strains 6 and 11 which cause genital warts.

Thus the first point to be made in relation to New Zealand readers is that the vaccine this young girl was exposed to is not the same one that is being given to our population.

To summarize the facts about this case, as reported by TimesOnline on the 29th of September, 14 year old Natalie Morton died in hospital on the afternoon of the 28 of September. Preceding her death by several hours was her injection of the GSK HPV vaccine Cervarix, this proximity in time is the only evidence that linked the vaccine to the girl’s death.

Late on the 29th the news that Natalie had a “serious underlying medical condition” was reported in the Guardian. At this point it was still unclear (to the public) whether the vaccine was in any way related to Natalie’s death. Health officials were however preparing to continue the vaccinations that had been put on hold following Natalie’s perceived complications.

By the 2nd of October the full story was clear, as covered in Medical News Today, Natalie’s death was revealed to have been caused by a previously undiagnosed and apparently asymptomatic malignant tumour in her chest. The tumour was described as having heavily infiltrated her heart and gone into her left lung. The HPV vaccine was officially cleared of any causitive agency in her death, in fact according to Dr Caron Grainger, Joint Director of Public Health for NHS Coventry and Coventry City Council, it could have happened at any point.

This story, if the end had been less definitive, could have been a very powerful anecdote against the use of HPV vaccines, as comments both within and about the early news stories reveal. Some with a vested interest of discrediting vaccines will undoubtedly still try to use it as such, already there are attempts to label the cause of death as fiction.  This shows a deeply unsettling conspiracy mindset as well as disrespect to Natalie and her family in trying to use her tragic tale to further their own agenda.