A minister who goes to the front. This Tuesday on France Inter, the Minister of Health Aurélien Rousseau declared that injecting the anti-HPV vaccine was not “inject the demon”, faced with the reluctance of certain private colleges to launch this vaccination campaign announced by Emmanuel Macron. “I’ll give you a scoop: we inject a vaccine, we don’t inject the demon”replied Aurélien Rousseau.
This Monday, October 2, the vaccination of middle school students in 5th grade against papillomavirus began, fully covered by Social Security. The start of this campaign was planned in a few regions, such as New Aquitaine or Normandy, before an extension to the entire territory. But this sometimes comes up against distrust from certain parents for many reasons.
Certain “marginal” private establishments will not carry out this vaccination campaign
Indeed, this vaccination system which is just starting is facing a disinformation campaign on Facebook and X, in particular. A vaccine “useless for boys”who gives “sterile” young girls or causes multiple sclerosis, for some, any excuse is good to scare people with a vaccine that has been the victim of misinformation for many years. When it is not a question of scientific disinformation, it is sometimes questions of religion and morality that this campaign comes up against.
For this vaccination campaign, only voluntary private establishments will be concerned. However, some college principals, particularly in the South-West, refuse to launch it. “That parents and children, in conscience, do not want to be vaccinated, I understand, but that establishments say ‘we are not organizing’, there we have a major problem“, estimated the Minister of Health. This vaccine is particularly the target of the most religious, Catholics and Muslims, who refuse to discuss sexuality with 11-year-old children.
The Secretary General of Catholic Education Philippe Delorme indicated in September, on the sidelines of his back-to-school press conference that “establishments that can do so will organize vaccination but there will of course be no national injunction from us”, he added. Catholic teaching does not have “opposition in principle” on this vaccination, according to Mr. Delorme, who confirmed that “perhaps”, “at the margin”, some establishments will not offer this vaccination.
A disinformation campaign led by anti-vaxxers including an elected official from Nice
To try to clear the land of mines, the authorities have set up “frequently asked questions” on the sites of Health Insurance or the National Cancer Institute. These questions were also addressed to the parents of the middle school students. The goal? Remember that the vaccine is effective against HPV infection but that it is also effective against the risk of one day developing cancer. A public health issue therefore. Especially since some families, points out sociologist of science Romy Sauvayre, look for answers on social networks, where false information proliferates, of two kinds: “the vaccine would cause serious side effects and would not be effective.”
Internet users accuse him of “causing ovarian failure and therefore sterility in young girls”or even assure that we can “acquire natural immunity” to HPV, lists Ms. Sauvayre. Although vaccination is optional and subject to the agreement of both parents, Facebook groups advise “don’t send your child to college” on the day of vaccination. Health “reinformation” sites, already at work during the health crisis, have resumed service and regularly publish disinformation messages and some Internet users even exchange “techniques” so that their child is not vaccinated. Some Nice Internet users are participating in this disinformation campaign. Sylvie Bonaldi, metropolitan councilor formerly Nice Écologique and now unaffiliated has made several Facebook posts on this subject in recent weeks. While she does not openly advise parents against vaccinating their children, these posts point to websites that participate in scientific disinformation.
A distrust which should lead to vaccination, despite everything
Like the disinformation campaign concerning Covid-19 vaccines, it is always the same techniques that are used by disinformants: figures coming out of nowhere or extracted from a truncated study, no verifiable source is cited, accusation against governments, details of the composition of the vaccine… In short, dangerous but not new messages. For the Nice University Hospital, conversely, the position is clear. “To date, all vaccinations must be initiated with the Gardasil vaccine for adolescents not previously vaccinated.” Vaccination is recommended for girls and boys aged 11 to 19, specifies the establishment. And to ensure that vaccination coverage is insufficient.
Faced with these allegations, the Medicines Agency promised thatshe would carry out a “reinforced surveillance” side effects of anti-papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and promises to publish reports of adverse effects every month, then summaries in the spring and summer of 2024 before a more global report in a year. However, “the most frequently observed adverse effects with Gardasil 9 vaccines are not serious in the vast majority of cases and disappear spontaneously within a few days, even if they can be annoying”, recalls the ANSM in a press release, mentioning pain at the site of the injection or headaches. In rare cases, as with other vaccines, the patient may experience discomfort or a serious allergic reaction, hence the need to continue monitoring for a quarter of an hour following the injection.
The government campaign is therefore trying to catch up in France, where less than half of adolescents are vaccinated against human papillomaviruses, compared to more than 80% in Sweden. These viruses, often referred to by their English acronym HPV, are the cause of nearly 6,500 new cases of cancer (uterus, vagina, penis, throat, etc.) each year in the country. “If this campaign fails, we will say that parents are reluctant, but it is above all a matter of political mobilization and health professionals“, judges Ms. Lavier, recalling that in France “the priority has long been organized screening rather than the very expensive vaccine.” “Of course, such a campaign will raise questions, but for many it will lead to vaccination”estimates sociologist Jérôme Gaillaguet, who has been working on the issue for several years, adding that it is “important to answer parents’ questions”.
Where does this distrust of this vaccine come from?
Several cases linked to this vaccine have been publicized in recent years. In 2013, the Japanese government backed down just two months after launching its anti-HPV vaccination campaign, due to doubts about a link between the injection and “chronic pain”. In Colombia, where 15 teenage girls fell ill after a collective vaccination in 2014, videos of these fainting spells caused an epidemic of similar symptoms in hundreds of other young girls, a phenomenon attributed to collective stress by scientists.
In France, the history of the anti-HPV vaccine has also been tainted by the media coverage of the ordeal of Marie-Océane Bourguignon, this young girl having experienced symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis after two injections. Her condition then stabilized and the courts dismissed her complaint against the laboratory.