The health ministry told local governments Friday to suspend recommending that girls aged 12 to 16 be given injections of cervical cancer vaccines, citing a limited number of reported adverse reactions.
While no more notices are expected to be sent to applicable people, most local governments will likely keep the vaccines on the list of those regularly given for free but a ministry official said the vaccination rate is certain to drop sharply.
Cervical cancer vaccines were just added to the list after the revised preventive vaccination law took effect in April. It is the second most common cancers after breast cancer among women aged between 20 and 39 in Japan, estimated to strike nearly 9,000 people each year.
Two vaccines are sold in Japan -- Cervarix by GlaxoSmithKlein plc. of Britain and Gardasil by Merck Sharp & Dohme, known as Merck & Co. in the United States.
Mika Matsufuji, a 46-year-old representative of an association of the parents of victims of cervical cancer vaccination, said the panel's decision signifies a "big step forward." Her daughter, who was vaccinated with Cervarix in 2011, became unable to walk and is now confined to a wheelchair, she said. The group is calling for termination of the vaccination.
A panel of experts at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare noted the strong possibility that prolonged severe pains were caused after the vaccines were given in a limited number of cases.
The panel concluded that active recommendation should be withheld until a more complete picture is attained about the side effect so that appropriate information can be provided.
Mariko Momoi, who chairs the panel, said, "It is necessary to gather information immediately to accurately grasp how often (the side effect) is occurring." Momoi is vice president of the International University of Health and Welfare.
The ministry said this is the second time that such recommendation for a regular vaccine program is withheld following the 2005 action on vaccines against Japanese encephalitis.
The panel focused on 38 cases of cervical vaccine recipients who reported pains in wide areas of the body. Given the timing of symptoms, the panel concluded that a link with the vaccines cannot be ruled out in many cases.
Side effect reports varied from 245.1 per 1 million vaccinations for Cervarix and 155.7 for Gardasil -- far more than two other vaccines also added to the regular vaccination list at around the same time. Pneumococcus vaccines had 89.1 reports and Japanese encephalitis vaccines had 67.4.