Written by Cate Bailey, CNN
As the 2019 Canada Summer Games approach, organizers are hoping the ripples of the cervical cancer vaccination controversy won’t be felt by the world’s athletes when they arrive for the biennial event.
The Games, held every four years, will be held on the shores of British Columbia at the beginning of August. Initially, the US and Canada scrapped their joint bid for the Games following heightened controversy around the proposed vaccine, which was deemed safe, but would require two years of monthly doses over two decades, to be fully effective.
The future of the partnership has never been clearer following the US government’s reversal to allow women to obtain the Cervarix vaccine at any time despite the official seasonal guidelines, which are still in place.
But the specter of contamination remains.
Rio Olympics 2018 visitors voiced concerns over drug packaging not proving 100% trustworthy. Credit: Markus Schreiber/ap
Data from Canada’s health agency, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), shows that roughly 20,000 doses of the vaccine, called CoVibax19, were shipped from the United States to Canada during the winter of 2017 and 2018, creating uncertainty among athletes and staff.
In the past, Canadian health officials have faced scrutiny for maintaining high levels of waste in vaccine production, prompting calls for authorities to regulate vaccine output and practices.
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Officials with the Public Health Agency of Canada explained in an email to CNN that the vaccine program has been ongoing for 10 years and is expected to reduce the country’s cervical cancer rate by close to 25%. PHAC estimates the vaccine will prevent up to 1,400 cases of cervical cancer each year.
The PHAC says COVID-19 remains a viable vaccination and must continue its production in Canada.
“As per the World Health Organization’s Blood Fluid or Vaccine Option Policy (VOP), the exercise of recovering raw vaccine [from this] batch is more effective and helpful than using raw vaccine imported by the US,” the health agency said.
But organizers are concerned about waste.
Canada’s Official House of Commons will be home to the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation during the 2019 event Credit: Parliament of Canada
“The severe winter weather conditions brought about by our nearby climate have damaged approximately 40% of the vaccine production facility in North Vancouver and once the PNW (Production Test Unit) facility reopens, this batch will be used to fulfill order from countries in the southern hemisphere,” said Charlie Legrand, a spokesman for Canada’s Sports Medicine Hub, an agency that oversees health and safety issues surrounding participants.
Planned pack rates throughout the Games’ 29 events, which focus on more than 200 sports disciplines, are “proportionate to known diseases and the number of participating athletes,” said Legrand.
What is Cervarix?
Cervarix is an HPV vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women and accounts for 1 in 13 cancer deaths in women every year.
The CDC says 50% of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. The vaccine is thought to prevent around 70% of HPV infections, according to the World Health Organization.
Millions of girls and young women, from ages 9 to 26, worldwide received the Cervarix vaccine in 2014 and 2015 through routine vaccine programs.
The vaccine was first developed as a collaboration between GlaxoSmithKline and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in 2003. The vaccines were studied before being licensed to the public health sector in 2013, according to GlaxoSmithKline.
The increased availability of the vaccine has not, however, been without controversy.
GlaxoSmithKline says there is no evidence to support claims the vaccine causes autism. The British research institute Autism Speaks disputes that, arguing there’s mounting evidence suggesting a link.