HPV vaccine may save your life

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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For the month of September, Your Health Your Wealth, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, will be discussing the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cancers, including cervical cancer.

TODAY we will focus on HPV infection/HPV vaccine and cervical cancer.

From the moment children are born, parents are given a vaccination schedule geared towards sustaining their children's lives and enhancing their ability to fight diseases.

According to the World Health Organization, “A vaccine is a biological preparation (medicine) that improves immunity to a particular disease.”

The vaccine triggers the body's immune system to recognise the disease organism (germ), destroy it, and tells the body to “remember” it so that the immune system can easily recognise and destroy it whenever the body comes in contact with it again, later in life.

The human papillomavirus vaccine is designed to prevent cervical cancer and can offer immunity against other cancers caused by specific HPV strains.

HPV is a group of pproximately 200 viruses that infect skin tissue. According to one report from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is so common that almost every person will get infected with the HPV at some time in their life if they do not get vaccinated for HPV. The organisation reports that about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and some 14 million people become newly infected each year.

Studies conducted in 2010 surrounding HPV prevalence in Jamaica revealed that HPV types 16 and 18 were found in 10.5 per cent of the general population and in 71 per cent of women with abnormal pap smears.

Research has shown that there are at least 14 types of HPV that have been found to cause cancer of the cervix, penis, anus and throat. However, types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

Worldwide, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women with more than 85 per cent occurring in developing countries, like Jamaica. On average, across the world, more than 500,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually, with 270,000 deaths. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that if there is no intervention, by 2050, one million women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 90 per cent of resulting deaths will be in developing countries.

The HPV vaccine is available to pre-teens, teens and young women up to age 26 as the best protection against cervical cancer. Although the vaccine has also been shown to be effective when administered to older women, the vaccine is most effective if given before exposure to the virus, which is why many countries across the globe have moved to include HPV vaccine programmes as part of their routine national immunisation schedule for pre-teen girls.

Join us next week for more on the HPV vaccine. What are your concerns, what are you not sure about? We would love to hear from you. Submit your questions to


CJ submitted the following questions which were answered by Dr Melody Ennis.

CJ: Is the vaccine free?

Doc: The Ministry of Health is offering the HPV vaccine free of cost to girls in the grade seven cohort across the island. The programme started in October 2017 and will be ongoing for all girls entering grade seven each year.

CJ: Is it a one-time vaccination?

Doc: For adequate protection each girl age 9 to 14 years of age must receive two doses of the vaccine at least six months apart. No booster doses are required in the future as these 2 doses will provide lifelong protection

CJ: Are there side effects?

Doc: There are no major or long-term side effects but at the injection site (upper arm) the child may experience: Redness; pain and swelling.

They may also develop a fever, dizziness and nausea (upset stomach), but these mild symptoms usually disappear in a few days. As with other injections or medical procedures, syncope or fainting my occur before or after receiving the vaccine.

To safeguard against injury if this happens, all girls are seated while getting the injection then observed by the health team for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

People that are allergic to the vaccine, or any component of it, should not be receiving the vaccine. If your child experiences any symptoms that concern you, please report these to the health team immediately.

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