Reluctant parents urged to get daughters vaccinated against HPV

Reluctant parents urged to get daughters vaccinated against HPV



Monday, January 20, 2020

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CERVICAL cancer remains the leading gynaecological cancer in Jamaica, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Jamaican women. While scientists are still trying to figure out the cause of this cancer which occurs on the cells of a woman's cervix, they are certain that the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, plays a role in causing most cervical cancers.

In 2017 the Ministry of Health and Wellness started a programme to vaccinate Jamaican girls against HPV, after a 2010 study conducted by the ministry revealed that two types of HPV were found to be present in 10.5 per cent of the general population. As the vaccine has proven to be more effective when administered before contact with the virus, the programme targets girls ages nine to 14 years old.

Programme development officer in the Family Health Unit in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr Julia Rowe-Porter told All Woman that about 22,000 girls have been vaccinated since the implementation of the programme. This is about 30 per cent of the target group, she said.

“The ministry's target for this year is to vaccinate at least 50 per cent of girls who entered grade seven in the 2019/2020 academic year,” she said. “Girls who entered grade seven as at the 2017/2018 academic year remain eligible for the vaccine and are encouraged to start and complete the schedule.”

While the vaccination drive has generally gone smoothly so far, there are still some parents who are reluctant to have their daughters vaccinated against HPV.

“Many girls and their parents are reportedly hesitant about accepting the vaccine mainly due to fears, doubts and concerns about the age at which the vaccine is being offered and the perceived negative effects it may have, such as infertility,” Rowe-Porter said.

She assured the public, however, that the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective, and there have not been any adverse reactions.

“Like other pharmaceutical products, vaccines may cause side effects, but there have been no significant adverse reactions reported to the ministry since the inception of the programme,” she noted. “Side effects from the HPV vaccination are usually mild and include pain, swelling and redness at the injection site, nausea (upset stomach) and fever. These reactions have occurred in some of the girls receiving the vaccine; however, close monitoring has revealed that the symptoms have resolved.”

She pointed out that Jamaica has the highest death rate from cervical cancer in the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere, even though cervical cancer is highly preventable. “In fact, no woman has to die from this disease as effective preventive methods as well as early detection and treatment are available,” she said.

“Over the years, HPV vaccination has proven to be a very safe and effective method of preventing infections from the major cancer-causing types of the virus. Together, vaccination of girls in their pre-teens and early teens, along with screening for HPV disease in women, are part of a comprehensive approach to eliminating cervical cancer from our population and improving the health and well-being of our women,” she continued.

She urged parents and caregivers to be receptive to the vaccine for the sake of the girls, especially since it may not be as effective if they get it when they are older.

“Studies have shown that grown women can get some protection against HPV-related disease if they get the vaccine, but the vaccine works best in girls 9-14 years because their immune systems respond better to the vaccine than adults, and girls are less likely to already be exposed to the virus than adult women,” she explained.

The vaccine for girls, which is primarily being administered through schools, is also accessible at health centres across the island and can be administered during school medicals upon request. It is given in two doses within a six-month period and is free of cost. Women may contact their gynaecologists/general practitioners to get more information on getting the vaccine.

“If we don't vaccinate our girls now, many more women in our next generation will continue to suffer from cervical cancer,” Dr Rowe-Porter warned.

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