A Singapore government minister questioned on Friday the effectiveness of cervical cancer vaccination for teenagers and said such prevention sends out a message that teenage sex is condoned by the community.
Medical experts say vaccination on girls is the best measure to prevent cervical cancer, which kills up to 280,000 women worldwide a year, mostly in the developing world.
In a speech to open the Asian Oncology Summit in Singapore, Balaji Sadasivan, junior minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, questioned the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine, saying the government needs more information.
“From an ethical standpoint, the issue of consent must be viewed in the local context where the community’s moral viewpoint is that offering such a vaccination programme sends out a message that teenage sex is condoned by the community,” Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Sadasivan said.
“As a country with a lower incidence of cervical cancer, the risk benefit ratio of vaccination will be lower in Singapore. We should therefore be cautious in making any national recommendation with regard to vaccination.”
Summit participant and 2008 Noble Laureate Harald zur Hausen, who discovered that human papilloma virus caused cervical cancer, disagreed.
“Data shows that the vaccine can be effective at least seven years and after 10 years you may get a boost again. That should do it,” zur Hausen told Reuters in an interview.
Zur Hausen, whose discoveries made it possible to diagnose cervical cancer and led to the development of two vaccines that prevent it, said vaccination in young girls, as early as 7 years old, did not cause early sex among teens in Europe.
“It might be a point which you have seen in Singapore, but at least in Europe, this point doesn’t play any real significant role,” he said.