Prevention Is Possible: HPV Vaccination And Cervical Cancer Elimination

Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to a brilliant group of immunization professionals and journalists at two Sabin Vaccine Institute-organized sessions about HPV at VARN2023. They shared candid assessments of issues on the ground which if unresolved will continue to hold back progress.

HPV Discussion Highlights

  • Some observed that HPV vaccines idled on shelves even as expiration dates closed in. That a vaccine in short supply should waste away is distressing. Vaccination, not vaccines, saves lives so unpacking factors that are dampening demand of such a highly effective vaccine is imperative.
  • Many highlighted the urgency of conducting implementation research to understand the link between a girls-only vaccination strategy and community acceptance. Nearly 50 countries are vaccinating both boys and girls. In some countries, while the government program remains limited to girls, private providers vaccinate boys too. This lack of consistency calls for updated and clear guidance.
  • Most underscored the fact that immunizing a 9-year-old child — the age at which most girls can start to get HPV vaccination– requires consent from parents/guardians. School-based campaigns must build a scaffolding of trust with caregivers by listening closely and responding to questions with honesty and empathy.

It is voices and insights like these – those who are closest to implementation– that will continue to influence and shape the new Sabin-led Global HPV Consortium, a public-private partnership dedicated to moving the needle on HPV prevention and cervical cancer elimination.

The Bottom Line

Currently, only two cancers, cervical cancer and liver cancer, can mostly be prevented by vaccines. While the world eagerly awaits effective vaccines for other cancers, let’s maximize use of the ones we have. High vaccination coverage together with screening and early treatment can eliminate cervical cancer — bringing hope and life to hundreds of thousands of families who lose young daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers to cervical cancer every year. World Health Organization’s announcement about the availability of yet another screening test for cervical cancer is worth celebrating. That further strengthens our arsenal. Together, let’s make HPV-induced cervical cancer history.

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