The HPV vaccine and why it’s important

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of cervical cancer, which is one of the biggest female killing cancers in the world. The HPV virus is common and most people who become infected do not even know they have it.

HPV vaccines were introduced across the globe to prevent the spread of this virus. The HPV vaccines can protect against a few of the HPV strains that cause genital and oral warts in men and women. Some also protect against the HPV strains that can cause cervical cancer.

HPV vaccines are most effective when given prior to sexual exposure. Children from 11 or 12 years old or even younger should receive the three dose series of the HPV vaccine. Men and women who are older and confirmed HPV negative, can still get vaccinated against HPV infection.

HPV vaccine effectiveness

Large vaccination programmes have proven to be highly effective in controlling the morbidity of diseases such as poliomyelitis, smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, yellow fever, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, measles, mumps, and rubella. Given the various clinical infections associated with HPV infection, vaccination will reduce the incidence of HPV-related diseases associated with significant morbidity and mortality throughout the world.

While Pap screening has been effective in dramatically reducing the incidences of cervical cancer in developed countries, cervical cancer still remains the fourth most common cancer in women. In developing countries where access to screening programmes is limited, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer and the leading cause of death. Thus, prevention of HPV infection may result in cost savings by decreasing the prevalence of genital warts and cervical cancer. 

Australia’s vaccine success

Australia’s HPV vaccine rollout started in 2007 and targeted girls between 12 and13. Three years later, coverage rates for girls that age in Australia’s school-based programmes reached 83% for the first dose, 80% for the second dose and 73% for the third. Researchers from Sydney’s University of New South Wales found:

  • Diagnoses of genital warts among young women aged 12 to 26 plummeted by 59%two years.

  • For men in the same age group, genital warts cases dropped by 39%.

  • In a phenomenon known as “herd immunity”, the high rate of immunisation among young women also protected young men who had not been vaccinated.

  • There was a striking decline in the rate of high-grade cervical abnormalities in teenage girls. 

There was little resistance to the HPV vaccine in Australia, just the usual anti-vaccination people and a few religious groups. 

Should males get the HPV vaccine too?

The quadrivalent HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is also for boys. This vaccine helps prevent boys from getting infected with the types of HPV than can cause cancers of the throat, penis, anus and genital warts. When boys are vaccinated, they are less likely to spread HPV to their current and future partners.

Which HPV vaccines are available?

Two HPV vaccines are available; Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline; and Gardasil, a quadrivalent vaccine made by Merck. Both vaccines are:

  • Effective against diseases caused by HPV types 16 and 18 - HPV 16 and 18 cause most cervical cancers, as well as other HPV associated cancers. 

  • Shown to prevent cervical pre-cancers in women. 

  • Safe following trials. 

  • Made with a very small part (in this case, the protein outer coat) of the human papillomavirus HPV) that cannot cause infection. 

  • Given as injections and usually require three doses. It has since been established that two doses of the bivalent vaccine is just as effective as the three prescribed doses.

  • Said to be and effective. Both vaccines were tested in thousands of people around the world. These studies showed no serious side effects.

Common,mild side effects included pain where the shot was given, fever,headache, and nausea. As with all vaccines, CDC and FDA continue to monitor the safety of these vaccines very carefully. 

What should be the deciding factor?

Cervical cancer is one of the leading cancers in the world. It normally does not have any symptoms. The HPV vaccine can save the lives of our children. It is thus critical to our overall approach to preventing this silent killer.

How is HPV transmitted

  • sexualinter course is not necessary for HPV to be acquired or transmitted.

  • HPV is spread mainly by direct skin-to-skin contact.

  • 8/10 adults will come into contact with HPV.

  • it can spread through many types of genital, oral and anal contact.

  • there is no way to know who has been in contact with the virus based on history of relationships or activities.

  • individual scan acquire HPV from others who are infected but who don’t have visible symptoms or lesions.

  • it may take only one encounter to be infected with HPV.

  • transmission from mother to newborn during delivery is possible.