Cervical cancer has a strong claim to be the world’s deadliest vaccine-preventable disease (ailments resulting from hepatitis B come close). Illnesses for which effective vaccines for children are widely available are generally no longer a threat to public health. But in 2020, over 10 years since the advent of a highly effective jab, cervical cancer still killed 342,000 women globally. If take-up of the vaccine by young women and men rose, this cancer could be nearly eliminated.
95% of cervical cancer cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). So common is HPV that nearly every sexually active person contracts a strain. Because the body flushes it out within a couple of years, most never know. In some cases, though, the virus lingers, forming lesions on women’s cervixes that can become cancerous and potentially deadly.
The HPV jab, if given to men and women before they become sexually active, is highly effective at protecting against HPV. But take-up has been slow. In Australia in 2020, the most recent year for which data are available, 81% of females and 78% of males aged 15 years had received the full course of the HPV vaccine.
So, what can we do?
- For starters, be aware that people up to age 26 no longer need multiple doses of vaccine. Treatment is provided by way of a single dose.
- If you have children, make sure they have the HPV vaccine when it’s offered at school. It is free under the National Immunisation Program for young people aged approximately 12 to 13.
- Adolescents who missed the HPV vaccination at school can catch up for free up to age 26. There are certain specific groups for whom an HPV vaccination is not recommended, so make an appointment with your favourite Turn The Corner doctor to discuss it first.
- If you are aged 26 or over, it might still be recommended that you have the vaccine. This will depend in part on your likelihood of already having been exposed to the virus. Again, make an appointment with your favourite Turn The Corner doctor to discuss. Should they recommend it, be aware you would need to pay privately – the fee is currently $269 for each dose of a 3-dose course.
- Finally, remember that even if you don’t have a cervix, if you are unvaccinated, you can still carry HPV and potentially pass it along to someone that does have a cervix. This is an issue that impacts all of us.
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