Last updated January 11, 2018 at 10:41 am
It’s been a decade since Australia introduced a comprehensive vaccination program for human papillomavirus – commonly known as HPV – to target cervical cancers. The vaccine was made available freely to every female between 12 and 26-years-old. This meant one and a half million girls were vaccinated in the first three years.
Following this catch-up program, the vaccine was offered to all 12-year-old girls and, a few years later, boys as well. Australia has one of the highest uptake rates of HPV vaccination in the world, and a new study shows just how valuable our efforts have been – and will continue to be over the next few decades.
Researchers found that cases of both HPV and genital warts rapidly declined, largely thanks to herd immunity. According to study co-author Associate Professor Julia Brotherton, Director of the National HPV Program Register:
“One of the major benefits of vaccines is their ability to provide herd protection. This means that even those who are not vaccinated are protected because the vaccine prevents the spread of infection in the population. Our research shows just how good herd protection effects are for the HPV vaccine.”
The success of the program even managed to shock study co-author Professor Basil Donovan from the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney, who said:
“It was staggering how rapidly warts began to disappear. These results confirm that the Australian approach to HPV has been highly effective. Importantly, we found that the expansion of HPV vaccination to males will produce greater benefits than more gradual approaches vaccinating just one school year of children at a time.”
The team used mathematical modelling to show that the benefits of our catch-up program will accrue for the next 70 years, and have therefore recommended the idea to the World Health Organisation. They suggest that, where affordable, mass vaccination events are held for children between 12 and 18-years-old.
Senior author Professor Marc Brisson of the University of Laval, Quebec did not equivocate:
“The Australian experience is the world’s clearest demonstration of the substantial benefits of this approach. It’s the first country in the world to document substantial declines in HPV infection, genital warts and in cervical pre-cancer following HPV vaccination.”
Australia should continue to have good news to share regarding the HPV vaccine. The next generation of the vaccine protects against five extra strains of the virus and goes into circulation in 2018.
Original research available here.