HPV Vaccine: All You Need to Know

Essentially, HPV vaccine protects against cancers caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is transmitted sexually.

According to a study on cervical cancer, published in the Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology (2012), cervical cancer is the most common cancer cause of death in developing countries. This vaccine is recommended for girls in the age-group of 9-13 years. Three doses are prescribed to protect them against HPV infections that cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

After breast cancer, it is the second most common cancer and statistics show 510,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, worldwide. In India, Delhi initiated the preventive vaccination process, and vaccinated adolescent government school-going girls in Class VI, with a goal of expansion and provision to all 9-13 year olds from this year, as part of its national immunization plan. However, doctors in India are still divided on this and their main apprehension is that it is too early to guage the vaccine’s efficacy, and the option is too expensive. The good news is that many experts and medical providers have acknowledged the need for the HPV vaccine.

HPV vaccines are introduced in the Indian markets under “Cervarix”, that costs Rs. 3000 per dose, and “Gardasil”, that costs 2,200 per dose. In India, at any point of time, 6.6% of women suffer from cervical HPV infection. Cervarix offers immunity against HPV 16 and 18 (reportedly the cause of 80% of cervical cancer in our country) and Gardasil is resistant to HPV 6, 11 (cause of 90% of HPV-related genital warts), 16 and 18.

"The currently available bivalent (protection against two types of HPV) and quadrivalent vaccines (offer protection against four types of HPV) 70% of the carcinogenic HPV types, while the nonavalent vaccine protects against 90% of them," said Prof. Surendra S. Shastri, former Head of Department of Preventive Oncology at Tata Memorial Centre. The Nonavalent vaccine, available in the West, is not available here because of its cost, and is yet to be approved in India.

Though the vaccine is not available for boys, experts suggest that HPV 6 and 11 cause genital warts in men and other HPV strains are linked to the possibilities of anal cancer. Australia was the first country to make this preventive vaccination available for boys between 9 to 15, and was later approved by other developed nations as well.

Why We Need This Vaccination

  • WHO recommends all girls between 9 and 13 should take this preventive vaccine because it is highly immunogenic during this age gap, even though it is available up to 26 years of age.

  • It is the fifth most common cancer in humans, and the second most common cancer in women worldwide. 

  • Globally, 510,00 new cases emerge, and 288,000 deaths are reported annually.
  • Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer originates early and rises in 30-34 years of age and peaks at 55-65 years.
  • Research studies and statistics show that 80% of sexually active women develop genital HPV by the time they are 50.
  • Indian estimates indicate approximately 132,000 diagnoses and 74,000 deaths annually. These statistics account to 1/3rd of the global cervical cancer death. Therefore, Indian women face a 2.5% cumulative lifetime risk and 1.4% cumulative death risk from this cancer.
  • Clinic attendees in India have reported warts in 2-25% of sexually transmitted diseases.

Since its introduction in the global market, nearly a decade ago, health experts in India are still skeptical about its ability, but better be safe than sorry, right? The debate centers on its availability and side-effects. Medical research conducted on more than 200 million post-HPV vaccination patients, in over 80 countries, suggest that no side effects, chronic or neurological, were evident. As far as availability is concerned, the vaccine is not available in government hospitals, but can be obtained by visiting a private hospital, or by asking a gynecologist’s clinic to acquire it for you.

About the Author

Neha Ramneek Kapoor

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