HPV vaccination for girls can take us closer to eliminating cervical cancer
Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) significantly increases the risk of developing cervical cancer later in life. Through its school immunisation programme, the Western Cape Department of Health has been administering free HPV vaccines to girls in Grade 5 over the age of 9 years in public schools since 1 March. School nurses are still visiting hundreds of schools as part of the first-round doses of administering HPV vaccines which will end on 30 April 2021.
The milestones of the HPV vaccination campaign can only be accomplished with the support of parents and caregivers, leaving no one behind, especially at a time when a global pandemic has had an impact on childhood immunisation services.
Western Cape Government remains committed to protecting girls from cervical cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer among women aged 15 to 44 years in South Africa. About 70% of all cervical cancer cases are caused by the HPV serotypes 16 and 18. The most common mode of transmission is through sex, but it can also be transmitted through any form of skin-to-skin contact and from mother to child.
‘The HPV vaccine is an effective primary prevention measure for cervical cancer. The vaccine is most effective when started before sexual debut, which is the reason for the recommendation of its administration in early adolescence. In addition, immune responsiveness to immunisation is at its highest in children making this an ideal time to vaccinate,’ said Dr Nomonde Mbatani, who works in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Groote Schuur Hospital.
‘Parents or caregivers are essential partners in the school immunisation programme because they play significant roles in the decision-making process for the uptake of HPV vaccination. Nurses will never administer vaccines and/or conduct general health assessments without their permission. It is important that parents or caregivers complete the necessary consent forms and submit them to the schools prior to the officials visiting schools in April,’ said Sonia Botha, the coordinator of the Expanded Programme on Immunisations (EPI) in the Western Cape.
The Department acknowledges parents’ concerns to vaccinate their children because they work hard to protect them every day. The HPV vaccine offers hope to us all for a world free from cervical cancer, and HPV infection can be reduced if herd immunity is achieved using the vaccine.