Experts recommend that girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) when they are aged eleven or twelve. If that window is missed, however, the vaccine can still be effective if they get a “catch-up” course when aged fourteen to twenty, US researchers suggest.
This could give India pause for thought. The overwhelming majority of the country’s women and girls still do not reap the full benefits of HPV vaccination.
HPV refers to a group of over 150 viruses. Two strains of HPV – types 16 and 18 – cause around seventy percent of cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccine is considered an effective method of lowering a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer, protecting against cancers caused by HPV types 16 and 18 in 99 percent of cases.
In the United States, the HPV vaccine is generally administered in two doses when the recipient is aged nine to fourteen. The study suggests, for those receiving the catch-up course, all three doses of the HPV vaccine should be administered for the immunisation to prove effective. It does, however, note that the vaccine above the age of 21 does not appear to be effective. However, researchers say that further study on this is needed.
Cervical cancer is a leading cause of death among women in India and accounts for seventeen percent of all cancer deaths. 67,500 women lose their lives to the disease every year – a rate of one death every eight minutes.
Despite its effectiveness, the HPV vaccine has yet to be included in India’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). To date, just one state – Sikkim – has implemented a HPV vaccination drive at the statewide level.
Scaling up immunisation efforts against HPV could be a valuable weapon in the fight against cervical cancer in India. It is important, therefore, that Indian women become aware of the benefit of receiving the full course of the HPV vaccine if they are not vaccinated at a younger age.
The study can be accessed here.