A 14-year-old girl died yesterday shortly after being given a cervical cancer vaccine. The girl was taken ill at a school in Coventry and was taken to hospital where she later died.
NHS Coventry have today begun an "urgent" investigation into the girl's death, and said that, although no link had been made between the death and the HPV jab, it had quarantined the batch used at the teenager's school as a "precautionary measure."
Dr Caron Grainger, joint director for public health for NHS Coventry and Coventry City Council, said: "A 14-year-old girl took ill at a school in Coventry and was taken to University Hospital in the city where she later sadly died. Our sympathies are with the girl's family and friends at this difficult time. No link can be made between the death and the vaccine until all the facts are known and a post-mortem takes place.
"NHS Coventry has taken the proactive step to quarantine the batch of vaccine being used as a precautionary measure only and have informed the regulatory authority. We are conducting an urgent and full investigation into the events surrounding this tragedy."
Dr Grainger also confirmed that a post mortem would take place within a "couple of days" and that the immunisation programme would continue after a "short pause" to brief staff.
A small number of other girls at the Blue Coat Church of England School had reported mild symptoms, such as dizziness and nausea, but were not admitted to hospital.
The vaccine, known as Cervarix, protects against the two strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) which lead to more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
The NHS started the HPV vaccination programme in September last year, offering vaccines to girls aged 12 and 13 and to 17 and 18-year-old girls. The Cervarix vaccine is currently being given to all girls aged 12 and 13 in a nationwide programme. A catch-up programme will mean that everyone under the age of 18 will be given it by 2011.
The vaccine was produced by GlaxoSmithKline UK, and was chosen by the government for the programme over an alternative vaccine, Gardasil, which is used more widely in Europe. More than 1.4 million doses have so far been given. Dr Pim Kon, the company's medical director, said: "Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of the young girl. We are working with the Department of Health and MHRA to better understand this case, as at this stage the exact cause of this tragic death is unknown."
If the post mortem links the vaccine with the girl's death, it will intensify the debate on mass vaccination programmes. Government officials and public health doctors who advocate such schemes argue that the more people that are vaccinated, the higher the likelihood of eliminating the disease, and that the benefits outweigh the small risks of harm associated with any vaccine. The campaign group Jabs, who support vaccine damaged children however, argue that when millions of people are getting vaccinated, the one in a million risks which can never be properly tested for, become a tangible reality.