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What to know about HPV vaccine

Today the federal government will be introducing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into the country’s immunization programme for girls between ages 9 and 14 years.…

Today the federal government will be introducing the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into the country’s immunization programme for girls between ages 9 and 14 years.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted Infection (STI) and has been implicated in over 90 per cent of cases of cervical cancer. It can also cause vaginal, vulvar, and other cancers.

According to the immediate past Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), is a common sexually transmitted infection, and has been a silent harbinger of several types of cancers, including cervical cancer.

He said, “Cervical cancer stands as the second most common cancer among women in Nigeria, and the second most common cause of cancer-related fatalities among women aged 15 to 49 years.

What to know about HPV vaccine

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“Nigeria alone contributes an estimated 12,075 new cases of global cervical cancer annually. HPV infection has been identified as a high-risk factor, implicated in 95% of cervical cancer cases. With 12,000 new diagnoses and 8,000 lives claimed each year, it translates to 33 new cervical cancer cases and 22 deaths every day in our nation.

“In Nigeria, one precious life is lost every two minutes to this preventable disease. Regrettably, this insidious disease ranks among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in 36 countries, including Nigeria. This is why the introduction of the HPV vaccine is a beacon of hope in our relentless fight against the burden of cervical cancer.

“By immunizing girls at an early age, we aim to shield them from the most common HPV strains responsible for cervical cancer in later life.”

Dr Faisal said the HPV vaccine has been scientifically proven to be safe and effective in preventing HPV infection and reducing the risk of cervical cancer.

“I am delighted to share that this vaccine will be provided free of charge to all eligible girls in Nigeria, commencing on October 24, 2023,” he said.

He said many countries, both in the Western and African regions, have already integrated the vaccine into their immunization schedules, adding that the proactive introduction of the HPV vaccine in Senegal in 2018 resulted in a remarkable 90% reduction in high-grade cervical abnormalities among vaccinated women, demonstrating the vaccine’s undeniable effectiveness.

He said similarly, Ghana’s commitment to vaccinating against HPV has achieved impressive coverage rates of 99.5% and 94.7% among eligible girls.

He enjoined parents, caregivers, and guardians to seize the opportunity and ensure their daughters, aged 9 to 14, receive the HPV vaccine.

However, he added that while vaccination is the most potent prevention measure against the Human Papilloma Virus, women are strongly encouraged to undergo regular screening tests for early detection and prompt treatment.

There are different types of HPV vaccines. They include 9-valent HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9, 9vHPV), quadrivalent HPV vaccine (Gardasil, 4vHPV), and bivalent HPV vaccine (Cervarix, 2vHPV). The federal government has approved Gardasil, for HPV vaccination in the country.

Dr. Ishak Lawal, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and the Executive Director, End Cervical Cancer Nigeria Initiative, said “All science has pointed to the fact that if we are able to vaccinate girls with HPV vaccine, it will significantly reduce their chances of having cervical cancer in the future.”

He said Gardasil protects against four HPV viruses—that is HPV 16 and 18, which are the cancer-causing HPVs, as well as the non-cancer-causing HPV 6 and 11.

The Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said the agency granted approval for the introduction of  Gardasil vaccine, as a single dose schedule into the country’s routine immunization because data from immunogenicity trials, post-hoc analyses of efficacy trials, and post-licensure observational studies among females have demonstrated that a single dose of HPV vaccine is sufficient to elicit an immune response that provides similar protection as a multidose regimen against initial and persistent HPV infection.

UNICEF Chief of Health, Dr Eduardo Celades, said the vaccine is safe and has been approved by all relevant global and national health authorities. He enjoined the public not to listen to rumour.

The WHO Nigeria Country Representative, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said HPV vaccine is very effective and if introduced and implemented correctly, will help make the huge burden of cervical cancer disappear over time.

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