The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world and cervical cancer is by far the most common HPV-related disease. High-risk strains of HPV are the predominant cause of 70% of cervical cancer cases which has driven some countries to include the preventative HPV vaccine in their immunization programs citing it to be “the most cost-effective public health measure against cervical cancer”.
In Hong Kong, cervical cancer is the seventh most common cancer affecting women and there is big news! Starting from the 2019/20 school year, the government will introduce free HPV vaccination to school girls as a public health strategy in Hong Kong’s fight against cancer.
Girls starting in primary school will be eligible to receive free HPV vaccination
Recently announced in The Chief Executive’s 2018 Policy Address young school girls starting in primary school will be vaccinated against HPV. “According to the recommendations of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and the Scientific Committee on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in mid-2018, starting from the 2019/20 school year the government will introduce free HPV vaccination to school girls of particular age groups as a public health strategy for prevention of cervical cancer (section 184).”
Cited in the Policy Address (section 183), the Cancer Co-ordinating Committee chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health is drawing reference from the World Health Organization’s recommendations, international practices and actual local situations to map out 2019 strategies in regard to cancer prevention and care services between 2020 and 2025, thereby reducing the burden on society imposed by cancer.
At present, government-subsidized cancer screening already covers colorectal cancer and cervical cancer. According to Carrie Lam healthcare services are “livelihood issues of the greatest public concern, just after housing.”
New Hong Kong child immunization program now including the HPV vaccine
The free Hong Kong childhood immunization program now includes the HPV vaccine in their program for eligible female primary students and is set to begin in 2019/20. The vaccine is also available in private clinics. Parents can decide when is a good time to consider vaccination based on their child’s situation.
The newest HPV vaccine Gardasil 9
The newest HPV vaccine Gardasil 9 protects against more HPV strains and has been estimated to protect against approximately 90% of all cervical cancer cases. It can be administered to both boys and girls over the age of 9. According to the World Health Organization, the HPV vaccination offers protection for 5 to 10 years (provided that all doses have been administered) and there is no evidence that the protection wanes over time against HPV strains (16,18) that cause approximately 70% of all cervical cancers.
Adult women can also benefit from the HPV vaccine
As explained by obstetrician gynecologist Dr. Michelle Tsui: “it is very important to note that women who are sexually active or who gave birth can also benefit from the vaccine. The HPV vaccine protects against the included strains of HPV as long as you have not already contracted those strains. Therefore, women who had abnormal pap smears in the past are also recommended to consider the vaccine to prevent reinfection or getting infected with other HPV strains.”