Emily hopes portraits will put spotlight on HPV vaccines

Emily Ryalls
Emily Ryalls

Emily Ryalls is planning a photography project, inspired by a health condition she believes she suffers as a result of her HPV vaccination. Laura Drysdale reports.

Portraits of young women will sit alongside each other in an exhibition produced by university student Emily Ryalls.

Emily with her mum Caron.

Emily with her mum Caron.

Their home countries will range from Denmark, to the UK and Ireland, their walks of life will vary, but each of them will have one thing in common; they believe, like her, that they have been adversely affected by the HPV vaccination.

For her final year degree project, Emily, 20, plans to photograph the women and interview them and their families about their health.

“I hope it will all come together to show the kind of numbers of people affected,” says Emily, who will appear sat beside the women in each of the images. “I want it to be impactful.”

Emily, from Ossett, West Yorkshire, had the vaccination, which helps protect against cervical cancer, aged 13, in 2010-11. In the weeks after each of the three dosages, she became unwell, she says, with symptoms including fainting, heart palpitations, chest pains and sickness getting worse after each injection.

Emily is preparing to go to Copenhagen next month.

Emily is preparing to go to Copenhagen next month.

She went from competing in dance championships to spending up to 20 hours a day unable to rise from bed. Much of the rest of her schooling was completed from home part-time.

“I did feel really hopeless about what I might do in the future, even just am I going to finish high school? Am I going to get my GCSEs? It was degrading having to scrape by. The school were so good, but at the same time it is demoralising knowing that you could do better in different circumstances.”

Aged 15, Emily was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

“We both believe that her illness was caused by the vaccination, as there is a strong temporal association linking the onset of her symptoms with the dates of the vaccination and her school absence records,” says her mother Caron, though they have no written medical confirmation that this may be the case.

Emily now takes medication every two hours to control her symptoms. “Although I do still struggle every day and there’s so many limitations in place, everything is well managed,” she says. Her love for photography began during her GCSE in art, a subject she had picked as she felt able to study it from home.

“Against the odds and with incredible support from Ossett Academy, Emily managed to get to university,” Caron says. She will begin the final year of her photography degree at Nottingham Trent University in October. Despite being classed as disabled and needing assistance to fly, Emily plans to travel to Copenhagen in Denmark next month to speak to and photograph other women who believe they have suffered health problems as a result of the HPV vaccination. She will also travel across the UK and Ireland and hopes to feature up to 50 people.

After her degree, she hopes to secure funding to continue the project, travelling further afield to the US, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

“The photographs will be a series of self portraits of me next to the girls in their own home,” says Emily. “The whole project will then be condensed into a photo book as well as the exhibition [at my degree art show next summer].”

“It’s about getting global recognition and showing the scale of what’s happening with this vaccination,” she explains.

A review of HPV vaccines was initiated in July 2015 by the European Commission at the request of Denmark and was carried out by committees of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The agency reviewed evidence surrounding reports of POTS and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) in young women given the vaccines.

“EMA confirmed that the evidence does not support a causal link between the vaccines and development of CRPS or POTS,” it said.

As of August 23, a total of 9,226 reports had been made relating to suspected adverse drug reactions (ADRs) associated with the HPV vaccination, according to data provided to The Yorkshire Post by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). They covered more than 24,000 suspected reactions, 71 of which were listed as POTS.

“It is important to note that a report received by the MHRA is not proof of a side effect occurring, but a suspicion by the reporter that the vaccine may have been the cause. Other factors such as the underlying disease and other drugs must be taken into account,” a spokeswoman says.

A national HPV immunisation programme was introduced in 2008 for secondary school Year 8 girls and the MHRA said more than 10 million doses had been administered in the UK in the past ten years, equating to a rate of just under one report per 1,000 doses. “This number and rate is not unusual, and raises no safety concerns,” a spokeswoman says, adding that reviews of reports and safety studies had found “no evidence of serious harm or chronic illnesses caused by HPV vaccines”.

Emily and her mother are part of UK campaign group Time for Action, who want reports of reactions associated with HPV vaccines to be investigated and more detailed information to be given to girls and their parents before they consent to the immunisation.

“The most important thing is that people know that I don’t want this vaccination to be removed,” Emily says. “If it did get removed and there was a spike in cervical cancer, my conscience couldn’t deal with that... but everyone needs to take seriously how this vaccination may be affecting girls.”

In July, the Government announced boys aged between 12 and 13 will also be given the vaccine.

What the regulator says

“The HPV vaccine is the most effective way for young girls and women to protect themselves against cervical cancer,” the MHRA says. “The HPV vaccine has a very good safety record and is as safe as any vaccine routinely given to adolescents.”

Like all medicines, its safety is under constant review.

“Every report of a suspected side effect is taken seriously. Health authorities around the world, including UK experts, the World Health Organisation, the US Centre for Disease Control and the European Medicines Agency have extensively reviewed the vaccine’s safety and have concluded that there is no credible evidence of a link between the HPV vaccine and a range of chronic illnesses, including POTS.”