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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Mothers consider opting daughters out of HPV vaccine over fears it causes infertility 

Incorrect information circulating in group chats causes confusion among some mothers in the Northern Emirates

The free HPV vaccine was first offered to girls in school settings a decade ago in Abu Dhabi, reducing the number of women with the cancer. Getty Images
The free HPV vaccine was first offered to girls in school settings a decade ago in Abu Dhabi, reducing the number of women with the cancer. Getty Images

Mothers in the Northern Emirates are considering opting their daughters out of a vaccine against a virus that can cause cervical cancer, because they have been misinformed about potential side effects.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention added vaccines against the Human papillomavirus (HPV) to the National Immunisation Programme for the first time in the Northern Emirates this academic year.

The vaccine immunises girls against a virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer, kills more than a quarter of a million women worldwide every year and is the second largest cancer killer of women in the Middle East and North Africa region.

It was first offered to girls at schools in Abu Dhabi a decade ago and, in 2013, the free immunisation scheme was expanded to include Emirati women aged between 18 and 26.

Though recommended, the injection is optional and is only administered to girls after receiving parental approval.

The Ministry rolled out an awareness campaign last month to encourage mothers to allow their daughters to be immunised but doctors say incorrect information that circulated among the women led them to believe the vaccine can cause infertility and cancer.

The mothers say they are no longer sure if they should give their consent.

“I don’t know what the vaccine does and why my daughter needs to take it,” said Fatima Ali, an Emirati mother of five girls aged between 3 and 16.

“No one explained the importance of the vaccine to me and whether it’s safe or not,” the 41-year-old from Fujairah said.

“One of the mothers told me that the girls will receive the first dose in January, during the second semester, and that it will not be mandatory but this made me feel more confused about the vaccine and its importance,” she said.

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Read more:

Free vaccination against cervical cancer for Abu Dhabi women

Screenings urged as cervical cancer rates forecast to double across Middle East

Greater understanding of HPV in UAE may help reduce cervical cancer cases

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Another woman said many mothers are worried that the vaccine could cause cancer, rather than prevent it.

“I saw many messages in two of our group chats and many mothers were concerned. Some were forwarding wrong information about the vaccine saying that it can cause cancer and infertility,” said Salema Jasim, a 35-year-old Emirati mother of 3.

“My daughters are still small but I think that there should be an awareness campaign that can reach every mother in the Northern Emirates to explain the importance of the vaccine and try to dispel any misunderstandings,” said Ms Jasim, from Ras Al Khaimah.

Health officials said many mothers have approached them with questions about how the vaccine is administered, its effectiveness and any potential side effects.

A doctor in Sharjah said the main concerns mothers have are if their daughters’ immunity or fertility would be effected.

“They thought that the vaccine would affect their fertility rates and immune system,” said Dr Yusra Abo Hamed, a public health and preventive medicine specialist in Sharjah.

“They were also not sure of the vaccine method of administration and some of the mothers thought it would be given in the cervix itself."

Dr Abo Hamed said the misunderstandings around the cervical cancer vaccine came after the mothers received misleading information on their group chats.

“I explained to the mothers who received the messages that the vaccine is given through the muscle, preferably in the shoulder, like any other vaccine, and it does not have any negative effects on their daughter’s health, their immune system or their productivity in future.”

She said the incident has shown how necessarily it is to deliver health messages carefully to the public.

“It has shown the importance of organising awareness campaigns that take into account the level of education of the target group and any social considerations.".

Dr Abo Hamed said the HPV vaccine is a very important step in the primary prevention of cervical cancer as it prevents the infection from happening in the first place, which in turn protects the girls from developing cervical cancer.

“On the other hand, the cervical screening, which aims to discover the cancerous changes in the cervix and the infection with HPV as early as possible, is considered a very important step of the secondary prevention of cervical cancer,” she said.

Dr Talat Masroor, Senior Consultant and Head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department at RAK Hospital, said there was no reason for the mothers to be concerned since the vaccine has been administered in Abu Dhabi for years.

“This is the HPV vaccination against cervical cancer initiated by the UAE Government. It is only given to the local girls from age 13 and it is already part of the national programme in Abu Dhabi,” said Dr Masroor.

“The first and second doses are two months apart, whereas the third is given three months after that and it does not cause any effects as such.

“Since the virus normally attacks the cervix after sexual intercourse, ideally the vaccination should be given before a girl gets married,” she said.