'Biological plausibility' that vaccine caused death

Two overseas experts have given evidence at a coroner's inquiry into the death of an 18-year-old woman which gives weight to the theory that a cervical cancer vaccine may have been linked to her death.

However, a New Zealand pathologist has dismissed their their evidence.

Jasmine Renata had been vaccinated by the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil in the year before her sudden death in September, 2009.

Ms Renata's body was discovered by her mother, Rhonda, in a sleepout at the family's Upper Hutt home.

She had received the last of three injections of Gardasil six months earlier and her parents believe the vaccine may have caused her death.

Mrs Renata told the inquest, being held in Wellington, that her daughter was fit, rarely got sick, didn't smoke and rarely drank alcohol.

But after her first Gardasil dose in September 2008, she developed pains in various parts of her body, suffered a racing heart beat, weak arms, tingling in her hands and legs, and she became tired and irritable.

Her hair started falling out and she was sleeping as much as possible.

Neuroscientist Professor Christopher Shaw of the University of Columbia in Vancouver told the inquest via video-link today that he was sent Ms Renata's brain tissue to test.

He said there was aluminium in all the samples he tested and there were some abnormalities in the samples.

The human papillomavirus (HPV16) was found in her brain, which could have only got there through the vaccine, Prof Shaw said.

Gardasil is given to prevent some strains of HPV, and so a small amount of the virus is in the vaccine.

Mrs Renata asked Prof Shaw if the vaccine was likely to have caused her daughter's death.

He said there was a "biological plausibility" that that was the case because of the abnormalities in her brain he had examined.

However, he could not say conclusively that was the cause of her death.

Dr San Hang Lee, a pathologist at Milford Hospital in Connecticut, told the inquest via video-link that he tested samples from Ms Renata's blood and spleen.

He also found aluminium and HPV in her system, from the vaccine.

Dr Lee could not say for sure what caused Ms Renata's death, but said the results he found from testing samples from her were "unnatural".

Pathologist Dr John Rutherford, who performed Ms Renata's post-mortem examination, said HPV and aluminium were supposed to be in the vaccine so it was not unusual they were found in Ms Renata's system.

He found no evidence to support the theory that Gardasil was to blame for Ms Renata's death and he did not think a definitive cause of death was ever likely to be found.

He criticised the evidence that HPV was found in Ms Renata's body.

"So what? It would be expected to be in there."

Dr Rutherford acknowledged Prof Shaw's ability to perform detailed brain examinations and would have been able to detect changes in Ms Renata's brain.

"But again I say, 'so what?'. If I died now there might be changes seen in my brain."

He said he had public health concerns and did not want parents to withhold Gardasil from their children due to health fears.

In 30 or 40 years, that could result in an "epidemic" of women suffering cervical cancer.

Other New Zealand health experts who also gave evidence at the two-day inquiry said the cause of Ms Renata's death was most likely to be an undetected heart condition.

Mr Smith said he would be taking more submissions on the inquest from those who had given evidence before making a determination in Ms Renata's death.


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